SEOUL (The Korea Herald/Asia News Network) - Amid screams and shouts for help and the fear of death in the sinking ferry, there were heroes who helped others escape first from the country's worst maritime disaster since 1993.
Ms Park Ji Young, a 22-year-old crew member of the ferry Sewol, was among them. She lost her life while struggling to ensure that all passengers on the third and fourth floors of the vessel wore life jackets and found their way out.
"I repeatedly asked her why she did not first wear a life jacket. Park just said that she would get out of the ship after making sure that all passengers were out. She said the crew including her would be the last (to escape)," a survivor told the media.
"Park pushed shocked passengers toward the exit even when the water was up to her chest."
Mr Kim Jong Hwang, a 58-year-old survivor, also remembered Ms Park's evacuation efforts.
"When the ship turned upside down, passengers were put on a door with one of them falling through it. Park dragged the passenger out of it and pushed others out of their quarters," he said.
Ms Park joined the ferry company in 2012 to earn money to support her poor family although she was admitted to a college in South Chungcheong province that year. When her body arrived at a hospital, her mother broke down.
"I can't believe you left us?" the mother cried.
Mr Jeong Cha Woong, a 17-year-old student, is also being hailed as a hero. He died after helping his friends escape from the ship. Mr Jeong is known to have died after giving his own life vest to his drowning friend and hurled himself into the waters to rescue others.
Mr Kim Hong Gyeong, a 59-year-old survivor, also risked his life to save other people.
Mr Kim made a 10m-long rope with curtains of the ship and used it to drag up several passengers. Although the water was above his knees, he continued his rescue efforts and saved the lives of some 20 people. He, then, boarded a fishing boat that volunteered in the rescue operations.
Hundreds of military, police and civilian personnel were mobilised for the frantic rescue efforts. Many fishers in the nearby waters also volunteered in the search for survivors. Underwater rescue operations were impeded by fast tidal currents and poor visibility.
The Defense Ministry has appointed Admiral Hwang Ki Chul, the chief of naval operations, to lead the rescue support team, including the 14,000-tonne amphibious landing ship Dokdo, three military aircraft and hundreds of naval and army commandos.