South Korean students who survived the Sewol ferry disaster have described escaping from flooded cabins as the ship sank.
The students had obeyed the crew’s orders to stay put, even as water started coming in as the Sewol listed.
Students floated up to cabin doors – by now overhead – and were pulled out by their classmates.
The Sewol ferry sank on April 16 off Jeju Island, killing 304 people. The students were giving evidence against the captain of the Sewol ferry and 14 crew.
They are accused of charges ranging from negligence to homicide.
It was the first time any of the teenagers on board the ferry have testified in a trial that is expected to last several weeks.
“We were waiting and, when the water started coming in, the class rep told everyone to put on the life vests,” Reuters news agency quoted one student as saying.
“The door was above our heads, so she said, <<We’ll float and go through the door>> and that’s how we came out.
“Other kids who got out before us pulled us out.”
Most of those who died on the Sewol were teenagers from the same high school who were on a school trip.
While the crew are charged with abandoning ship, the captain and three officers are also charged with “homicide through willful negligence”.
Investigators say the ferry had been illegally modified to carry more passengers and cargo, and was overloaded.
Prosecutors say the actions of the captain and crew – including instructing passengers to stay in their cabins as the ship listed – led to more deaths.
The students are testifying at a district court near their homes near Seoul, rather than at the actual trial in the southern city of Gwangju.
One witness told the court passengers received multiple instructions to stay put.
“They kept saying the same thing over and over,” AFP quoted the student as saying.
Another student described escaping through a stairwell to a hatch and jumping into the sea, as a swell hit.
“There were many classmates in the corridor and most of them were swept back into the ship,” she said.
The disaster – which correspondents say was South Korea’s worst maritime disaster in 44 years – caused shock and outrage, including harsh criticism of both bureaucrats and business officials whose alleged failings or corruption led to the tragedy.
Officials from ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine are also the subject of separate legal proceedings.
Earlier this month, police identified a body found on 12 June as company owner Yoo Byung-eun, who had been the subject of a man-hunt since the disaster.
Yoo Byung-eun’s son, Yoo Dae-kyun, was arrested on Friday.
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