SEOUL — Soon after the ferry begins to tilt, nervous laughter can be heard from the high school students huddled below deck. In video clips from the cellphone of a victim of a disaster that has shaken South Korea, the teenagers talk of taking selfies, wonder whether they will make the news and discuss posting about the excitement later on Facebook.
The fear in the cabin builds as the listing worsens. Some say they feel dizzy, that their legs are shaking. One student can be seen walking with his hands braced against the wall for balance.
“Am I really going to die?” a student asks at 8:53 a.m., April 16, two minutes before a crew member on the bridge made the ferry’s first distress call.
Students ask whether the ship will sink and where their teachers are. “What’s the captain doing?”
Several times they are warned over the loudspeaker to stay where they are, even as the tilting increases and it becomes less possible for them to flee.
The shaky video was on the cellphone of a 17-year-old Park Su-hyeon when rescuers recovered his body. The boy’s father provided it Thursday to the Associated Press, saying he wanted to show the world the ship’s condition as it sank. Park Jong-dae, the father, earlier released it to select South Korean news media outlets.
The tragedy, which has left more than 300 people dead or missing, touched off mourning, anger and shame nationwide. About 220 bodies, mostly from inside the submerged vessel, have been recovered. More than 80 percent of the victims were students from a high school in Ansan, south of Seoul, on their way to the tourist island of Jeju for a school trip.
The teens in the video alternate between bluster, attempts at humor and unmistakable fear.
Only one can be seen wearing a life jacket at the beginning of the video clips, which start at 8:52 a.m. and end, with a small break in between, at 9:09, when everyone appears to be wearing them.
Some of the students struggle as they try to buckle their life jackets. As the ferry lists, they joke about “final commemorative pictures” and “defying gravity” by trying to walk on the walls.
“It’s like we’re becoming the Titanic,” one student says.
At the beginning of the video, a message blasts from the ship’s loudspeakers: “Don’t move away from your places and brace for any possible accidents.”
In subsequent announcements, passengers are again told to stay put, even as some students question whether they should flee. The last message from the bridge comes at 9:08: “We’re again announcing: For passengers who can wear life vests, please wear them now. Never move away from your places.”
That warning came eight minutes after a Sewol crew member told a marine traffic official, “The body of the ship has tilted, and it’s impossible to move,” according to a transcript.
After the passengers were ordered to stay in the cabins, Capt. Lee Joon-seok took at least half an hour to order an evacuation. It is unclear whether that order was ever relayed to passengers. Lee has said that he delayed evacuation because of worries about sending passengers into cold waters and fast currents.
Lee can be seen in a separate video released by the South Korean coast guard leaping from the ferry in his underwear onto a rescue boat while many passengers were still in the sinking ship.
The captain and 14 others responsible for the vessel’s navigation have been detained on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutors are investigating whether stability issues related to too much cargo or a redesign that added more cabins to the ship contributed to the sinking.
Some of the teens in the video use it to offer their last words. Some warn their siblings not to take school trips unless they want to end up like them.
“I’m really scared,” a student says at one point.
“Is it really sinking?” another asks. “Wow, they’re giving us life vests.”
“I’m getting out of here,” one says. “Me too, me too,” another says.
A student says: “We have to survive now.”
“We’re all finished. I have to leave some farewell words before I die,” another says.
“Mom, I love you,” one says.