Sewol survivors say their mistake was making it off the ferry alive

Posted on : 2017-01-09 17:34 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Nearly 1,000 days since the Sewol sinking, students still miss their lost friends and hope for a thorough investigation
The 11th weekly demonstration calling on President Park Geun-hye to resign
The 11th weekly demonstration calling on President Park Geun-hye to resign

“We weren’t all rescued. I think we escaped by ourselves. [. . .] They said they were going to rescue us, and we thought they would really do so. Since they were bringing helicopters and the coast guard, we thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. But now we can‘t be with our beloved friends, and we can’t ever see them again no matter how much we miss them for the rest of our lives. What was it that we did wrong? If there was something that we did wrong, I think it was getting off the Sewol ferry alive.”

Remarks by students who survived the sinking of the Sewol ferry brought tears to the eyes of protesters at the 11th candlelight rally, held on Jan. 7 at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul. This was the first time that nine of the second-year students at Danwon High School in Ansan who were on the ferry at the time of the accident stood before the public. The nine students, named Kim Jin-tae, Kim Jun-ho, Lee Jong-beom, Park Jun-hyeok, Seol Su-bin, Yang Jeong-won, Park Do-yeon, Lee In-seo and Jang Ae-jin, promised their departed friends to “never forget them and always remember them.”

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

With just two days until the thousandth day since the Apr. 16, 2014 Sewol sinking, Jang Ae-jin, 20, who spoke on behalf of the surviving students, expressed the students‘ guilt for the friends who had died in the accident and their bereaved families and called for a thorough investigation of what President Park Geun-hye was doing during the first seven hours of the accident.

“If the president had been receiving briefings and giving instructions during the seven hours when she did not appear on the day of the accident, and if we had been told to get off the ferry immediately instead of staying in our seats, there would not have been as many victims as there are today. This obviously needs to be investigated,” Jang said.

“We have remained silent even though we were the victims because we lacked the courage, because we were afraid of being criticized as in the past. But now we intend to take courage, too. Someday, when we meet our friends once again, we hope to be able to proudly tell them that we made sure that the people who separated us from our friends were held responsible, that we made those people pay the price.”

 Jan. 7. (by Kim Myoung-jin
Jan. 7. (by Kim Myoung-jin

After Jang finished her remarks, the weeping relatives of the Sewol victims came up to the stage and embraced the surviving students one by one. “The Sewol tragedy is a mirror of Korean society. Just as people look in the mirror to fix their hair, the Sewol was a chance for Korea to see itself as it truly is and to think about how it should change. It’s really heartbreaking to see people who say they are tired of all this. There are still nine people down beneath the waves, and even children know better than to say things like that,” said Shim Jun-hee, 40, an elementary school teacher who attended the rally.

 at the 11th weekly demonstration calling on President Park Geun-hye to resign
at the 11th weekly demonstration calling on President Park Geun-hye to resign

The Emergency Public Campaign for the Resignation of President Park Geun-hye, which organized the demonstration, estimated that 600,000 people attended the main gathering, which began at 5:45 pm on Dec. 7, with a total of 640,000 people attending rallies around the country. At 7:35 pm, the organizers had everyone extinguish their candles to honor the nine people whose bodies have yet to be recovered. After that, they released a thousand yellow balloons into the sky.

304 lifejackets laid out in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul to symbolize the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking
304 lifejackets laid out in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul to symbolize the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking

By Park Su-ji and Ko Han-sol, staff reporters

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