Rescue boats and helicopters scrambled Wednesday to find almost 300 passengers, including scores of high school students, missing after a ferry sank off the southwest coast of South Korea.
Of the 459 people on board, 164 have been rescued, the security ministry said.
The ferry, carrying mainly school students from Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb, was travelling from the port of Incheon in the northwest to the southern resort island of Jeju, a route it serves twice a week.
The 146m-long ferry named Sewol has a capacity of about 900 people.
It was not clear what caused the incident, but some survivors hearing an impact before the ship listed and quickly sank.
“It was fine. Then the ship went ‘boom’ and there was a noise of cargo falling,” Cha Eun-ok told Reuters. She was on the deck of the ferry taking photographs at the time.
“The on-board announcement told people to stay put … people who stayed are trapped,” she said in Jindo, the nearest town to the scene of the accident.
One passenger told the YTN news channel: “We heard a big thumping sound and the boat stopped.
“The boat is tilting and we have to hold on to something to stay seated,” the passenger said.
Weather conditions were described as fine. Yonhap news agency said that the ferry sank at a depth of 30m (90ft).