JINDO, South Korea (AP) — The South Korean ferry that sank was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing, a radio transcript released Sunday showed, suggesting the chaotic situation may have added to a death toll that could eventually exceed 300.
About 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea's southern coast. The crew member posed the question three times in succession.
That followed several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone declared that it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.
Many people followed the captain's initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped. Fifty-eight bodies have been recovered, and about 240 people are still missing.
"Even if it's impossible to broadcast, please go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing," an unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center urged at 9:24 a.m. Wednesday, 29 minutes after the ferry first reported trouble, according to the transcript released by South Korea's coast guard.
"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?" the unidentified crew member asked.
"At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic-center official responded.
"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?" the crew member asked again.
"Don't let them go bare — at least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic official repeated. "The rescue of human lives from the Sewol ferry ... the captain should make his own decision and evacuate them. We don't know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you're going to evacuate passengers or not."