South Korean ferry

South Korean coast guard officers try to rescue passengers from the Sewol ferry as it sinks in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

Yonhap | AP

J. Choi listens to Korean news stations playing on his phone throughout the day as he works at his gas station in Killeen.

Despite being thousands of miles away from his native country, Choi was surprised and sad when he heard about a South Korean ferry, which left hundreds of people missing when it sank Wednesday.

“You cannot believe this happened. ... You don’t know when or where it will happen,” said Choi, of Killeen. “That happened in my country. I am just in shock. We just pray and pray.”

The ferry carrying 470 people, including 325 high school students, was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call Wednesday morning as it began leaning to one side, according to Ministry of Security and Public Administration.

The official death toll soared to 59 on Sunday as divers, hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility, finally found a way inside the sunken vessel. They quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies in what may be the beginning of a massive and grim recovery effort.

Some of the bodies found Sunday were recovered outside the ship.

Divers, who once pumped air into the ferry in the slim hope that survivors were inside, have yet to find anyone alive.

The heartbreaking task of recovering the bodies is becoming even harder as crews work to identify the remains. Information sheets taped to the walls of a gymnasium on Jindo island where families of the missing are staying list details of the bodies such as sex, height, length of hair and clothing.

Although Choi is sad about the sunken ship, he said Koreans don’t spent too much time dwelling on loss after the death of a loved one.

Choi still keeps in touch with his friends in Korea, who said they don’t want to talk about the capsized ferry anymore.

“I talk to my friends in Korea and they don’t say anything,” Choi said. “We cannot keep thinking about it. (It’s) time to go on to regular life.”

Herald photographer Bryan Correira and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Rafique at or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at SarahRafique.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at

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