A man watches a TV news program showing the sinking passenger ship in Seoul. Pic: AP.

In the government’s latest tally, South Korea says 280 people from the ferry that capsized in the Yellow Sea south of Seoul are still missing and five people have died.

Passengers on board were primarily students from Danwon High School in Ansan for their customary class trip to Jeju Island. South Korean officials initially confirmed two deaths including a male high school junior from the school and 22-year-old Park Ji-young, who was a service attendant on the ferry.

The vessel ‘Sewol’ was delayed two hours at the Incheon seaport last night due to foggy weather. The ministry reports that at 8.58am KST the coast guard received a distress call and within two hours the ship was capsized.

While the exact reason behind the incident is still being investigated, survivors are saying they heard a loud “boom” – which is what many believe caused the ferry to submerge. Following the noise, passengers say they saw cranes toppling over. According to those rescued, the boat’s intercom system told everyone to stay calm and remain where they are for their “safety,” even restricting those who wanted to go out from leaving. It was not until the room started flooding that the instructions changed. Due to the pressure and force of the water, doors were almost too heavy to open while many shouted to “break the windows.” Apparently, the PA system told those already outside to jump into the water.

A witness who narrowly escaped says that he thinks there were 30 people still trapped in the area he was able to get away from.

Of the 459 passengers: 324 are students, 14 teachers, 24 attendants and the rest leisure travelers. Current numbers suggest that 174 have been rescued and the current death count is at five. Many suspect that the unaccounted for are stuck within the boat with South Korean analysts saying there is approximately 72 hours before they run out of oxygen.

At Danwon High School, the atmosphere is somber. Friends and family are holding one another to comfort each other for their losses. The grief is apparent as many ask for their personal space to be respected so they can mourn peacefully. But there is also anger and building frustration. The government’s initial tally of people rescued was twice what it actually is.

Fits of justified rage question the school’s leadership, asking the whereabouts of the children and why they had to go on this trip. Parents, relatives and friends still awaiting news of their loved ones are gathered in a medium-size auditorium, which fits roughly 500. Instant noodles, pastries and beverages are provided by the Red Cross while blankets are being brought in to ensure comfort for the long night ahead. But those small condolences remain glued to the table as their eyes are fixed on the large projected stream of live updates on the situation.

When asked if the two-hour delay contributed to the accident – with the captain rushing to make up time – government officials said that they “needed to confirm”, but that it is also a possibility. With the ferry’s usual captain said to be on vacation, a substitute captain was in charge of the ferry.