Passengers are rescued by a South Korean Coast Guard helicopter.
Ferry survivors told to 'stay still'
02:40 - Source: CNN

Are you there and safe? Show us what’s happening.

Story highlights

NEW: Ferry captain: "I'm sorry, I have nothing to say," JTBC reports

Analyst: Instructions to stay put were "terribly, tragically wrong"

Coast guard: At least 9 people are dead; 287 are missing

Survivor: "Kids were forced to stay put, so only some of those who moved survived"

Jindo, South Korea CNN  — 

Passengers aboard a sinking South Korean ferry faced a terrifying choice as the vessel rolled: obey commands barked over loudspeakers to stay in place, or don life vests and jump into the chilly ocean water.

“Don’t move,” a voice warned, according to a recording obtained by CNN affiliate YTN. “If you move, it’s dangerous. Don’t move.”

That announcement, some witnesses worried, may have cost some passengers on the ferry Sewol their lives.

“Kids were forced to stay put,” one survivor told CNN affiliate YTN, “so only some of those who moved survived.”

As rescuers searched the frigid water for nearly 300 people who remained unaccounted for, witnesses told horrific stories of their final minutes on the sinking ship.

“We were told to stay where you are, so we kept staying,” survivor Hyun Hung Chang told YTN. “But later on, the water level came up. So we were beside ourselves. Kids were screaming out of terror, shouting for help.”

At least some of those who jumped or made their way to the top of the ship were rescued. Helicopter crews plucked some from the deck.

Others were pulled from the water by rescuers aboard the multitude of fishing boats and military vessels that raced to the scene as the ship rolled over and capsized.

“I had to swim a bit to get to the boat to be rescued,” Lim Hyung Min, one of more than 300 Seoul high school students who was aboard the ship for a four-day field trip, told CNN affiliate YTN. “The water was so cold and I wanted to live.”

Nine have been confirmed dead, officials said Thursday.

As of 10:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m. ET Wednesday), of the 475 people who were aboard the ferry when it capsized, there were 287 people missing, and 179 people had been rescued, the coast guard said.

Police are questioning the boat’s captain, and maritime police are investigating safety and rescue conditions aboard the ferry, YTN reported.

The captain had few words for the public.

South Korean ferry rescue operation

“I’m sorry, I have nothing to say,” the captain said, according to South Korean TV network JTBC.

A massive rescue operation resumed early Thursday after a delay of several hours, the South Korean Coast Guard told CNN. The reason for the delay was unclear.

Dozens of military divers, sailors, marines and police officers were assisting in the effort.

But cold water, swift currents and low visibility appeared to be complicating the rescue operation.

Water temperatures in the area are between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit (about 10 to 13 degrees Celsius), CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

Helicopters took off from the U.S. Navy ship USS Bonhomme Richard Thursday to support search efforts, said Lt. Arlo Abrahamson, spokesman for the U.S. Navy in South Korea.