Some parents of the mostly teenage victims of South Korea’s ferry disaster are pushing for autopsies that might show their children were alive inside the submerged vessel and only died because the emergency response was so slow as the confirmed death toll today reached 171.
But 131 others were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry’s interior.
More than a week after the 6,825 tonne Sewol capsized and sank with 476 people on board, most of them high school students, there is still widespread anger among the victims’ families over the pace of the initial rescue effort.
It took divers working in difficult and dangerous conditions more than two days to get into the sunken ferry and two more days to retrieve the first bodies.
Many relatives believe some of the victims may have survived for several days in trapped air pockets, but perished in the cold water after no rescue came.
As a result some have asked for autopsies to be performed, to see if it would be possible to determine the precise cause and time of death.
“We have received a number of enquiries about autopsies,” said a member of the forensic team on Jindo island working on identifying the bodies recovered from the disaster site.
“It seems they want some confirmation of the exact cause of death, but it’s only a minority that is asking,” he said.
An official responsible for legal and medical issues at the emergency situation desk on Jindo said there was nothing to prevent families having an autopsy carried out.
“But to my knowledge, nobody has so far actually brought a body to the National Forensic Service to have this done,” the official said.
The belief that some passengers might have survived the initial capsize was very strong in the days immediately after the Sewol sank on April 16, fuelled in part by fake postings on social network sites that claimed to be text messages from passengers begging to be rescued.
Relatives have also been distressed by reports that many of the recovered bodies had broken fingers — pointing to frantic efforts to escape the vessel as it listed and sank.
Of the 476 people on board, 325 were students from Danwon High School in Ansan city just south of Seoul.
Kim Hyong-Ki, the spokesman for a representative committee set up by the relatives, confirmed that some parents were pushing for autopsies.