Skip to main content

As Sewol crew is scorned, young worker hailed as heroine

By Madison Park and Stella Kim, CNN
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More crew members have been charged in the Sewol sinking incident
  • But survivors tell of a young crew member who helped students get life jackets
  • She refused one herself, witnesses tell South Korean media
  • Students weep outside Danwon High School, where many remain missing
Ferry divers: No air pockets found

Incheon, South Korea (CNN) -- The number of crew members charged is rising, and so is the anger that families feel.

But there's one crew member they are leaving out: Park Jee Young, 22, who by witness accounts helped passengers escape and distributed life jackets -- one after the other to students -- as the stricken ferry began to sink.

When she ran out of jackets, she ran to the next floor to grab more.

New questions about ferry crew's response
Passenger made ferry's first distress call

When she was asked why she wasn't wearing a life jacket, Park said that crew members would be last and that she had to help others first, according to witness accounts to South Korean media.

Park's body now lies in a funeral home in the city of Incheon.

She is one of the more than 100 people dead; 215 remain missing.

The other day, a man with injuries to his head showed up to the funeral room where Park's memorial stands.

When asked by Park's family who he was, the man said that he had been injured in the ferry and that he was "indebted" to the young woman who placed a towel on his bloody head and helped him as the water rose.

"She was so responsible and so kind," said her grandmother, Choi Sun Dok, 75, who sat on the floor, slumped against a wall, no longer able to stand. Her family members kneeled with her, holding her hand and weeping together on the floor.

White mums and lilies, which signify death, poured in from strangers, covering the hallway leading to her memorial room. The flowers contain messages like "We will not forget your noble spirit." "We will always remember your sacrifice." "Hero." An online petition has gone up urging the government to award her a Good Samaritan award.

Her relatives say Park wanted to stay in college, but she felt responsible for supporting her family after her father passed away two years ago. So she dropped out and joined the ferry company in 2012. She was transferred to a bigger ship, the Sewol, about six months ago, because she had proved her capabilities, her relatives said.

The Sewol's sinking has left many appalled by the alleged actions of several members of the crew -- including the captain, who now faces a series of criminal charges for his role in last week's sinking.

Post-it notes pile up in front of the sign at the gate of Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.
Post-it notes pile up in front of the sign at the gate of Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.

"This is so unfair that our Jee Young had to die while the captain ran away," said her aunt, who declined to give her name. "Jee Young was so responsible, and the captain just ran away."

Over two-thirds of those on board were students on a high school field trip, many of whom remain missing.

Flowers for Sewol crew member Jee Young Park pack a hallway at the funeral hall in Incheon, South Korea.
Flowers for Sewol crew member Jee Young Park pack a hallway at the funeral hall in Incheon, South Korea.

Students grieve in hometown

Judith Ambe grieves for friends missing after the Sewol incident at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.
Judith Ambe grieves for friends missing after the Sewol incident at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.

The students attended Danwon High School in Ansan, a leafy suburb of Seoul.

The high school is missing most of its sophomores, and classes are to resume Thursday.

Those who are not students, teachers or parents were not allowed on school grounds to allow those to grieve privately. Well-wishers milled outside the school gate, writing Post-it notes and signs with messages of hope and encouragement. "Brothers and sisters, please come back," one read.

Judith Ambe, a local college student who knew about 10 of the missing students through her church, stood outside, silently praying.

"I just hope, maybe, they could be found alive," Ambe said, wiping her tears. "I'm hoping God will intervene."

"It feels so empty now," said student Kim Song Kyum, 17. "It's not an environment where you can study now."

Memorial stirs raw emotions for families

Every student there knows someone who has died or gone missing, the teenagers said.

"I want everything to be a lie," high school student Oh Hae Youn said. "When I wake up in the morning, I feel like everything feels right. Then, I realize it's not. I just wish everything was a lie."

See what to do if a ship is sinking

READ: Abandon ship? In recent maritime disasters, captains don't hang around

READ: Students remember vice principal who took own life

READ: Families protest over rescue operation

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The trial of the captain and crew began, with the accused facing the families of the victims.
updated 10:52 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
South Korea's most wanted man, who is believed to have ties to the company that operated the ill-fated Sewol ferry, has eluded arrest for weeks.
updated 3:09 PM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
South Korea's President apologized for a ferry disaster that killed close to 300 people and said she would dismantle the country's coast guard.
updated 11:23 PM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
Here are 7 major factors that contributed to the ship's sinking.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
The words and images from the cell phone of a girl who perished on the South Korean ferry convey the rising panic aboard.
updated 1:56 AM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
In one video, the captain of the sinking South Korean ferry scrambles to safety. In another, stranded passengers panic.
updated 10:56 AM EDT, Sun April 27, 2014
As the death toll from the ferry disaster continues to rise, yellow ribbons have evolved into a national sign of grief.
updated 10:52 AM EDT, Sun April 27, 2014
Choi Duk-Ha, 17, is credited for saving the lives of many on the ferry. He later died and is now hailed as a hero.
updated 3:31 PM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
CNN's Nic Robertson reports on the rising anger as South Koreans learn more about the final moments of the doomed vessel.
updated 11:14 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
CNN's Erin Burnett talks to Ship stability expert Paul Roden about whether the cargo lead to the ferry disaster.
updated 12:06 PM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
South Korea is not only a nation in mourning, but also a country overwhelmed with guilt. CNN's Paula Hancocks reports.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Park Jee Young, 22, helped passengers escape and distributed life jackets as the stricken ferry began to sink, refusing to wear one herself. It cost her life.
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Such bravery has been conspicuously absent from two major maritime disasters in recent times.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
South Korean students remember their vice principal, who took his own life after the ferry sinking.
updated 3:30 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
The captain of the sunken South Korean ferry is defending his actions as rescuers continue the search for survivors.
updated 10:01 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
CNN's Kyung Lah reports on suicide in South Korea following news of a capsized ferry.
ADVERTISEMENT