Female cafeteria crew member helped to save one-third of Sewol survivors

SEOUL — The captain of the ill-fated South Korean ferry has been arrested, and vilified, for violating the ancient mariners’ code of being the last off a stricken boat. The 23-year-old greenhorn third mate who was at the helm of the vessel is under scrutiny for her role in the disaster.

But emerging reports are suggesting that not all of the 29 crew are guilty of neglect. The actions of 22-year-old Park Ji-young, in particular, suggest that some performed their duties heroically.

New witness accounts from survivors have suggested that Park, a part-time crew member who worked at the cafeteria on board the Sewol, which sank last Wednesday with 476 passengers and crew, might have helped save almost one-third of the 174 survivors.

Three survivors told CNN in an interview aired yesterday that they owed their lives to her.

They described how the ship listed so much to one side that the wall became the floor and an open door made the gap between the passengers and the exit too great to cross. While one crew member told passengers to stay put, Park forced her way to the door, closed and locked it so passengers could walk across. That door became a “bridge of life”, helping about 50 people escape, the survivors told CNN.

Park was right next to the exit and could easily have escaped, but she apparently did not. “She was just a girl but she was so brave,” said Mr Kim Jeong-keun, one of the three men interviewed. “If every crew member on that boat was as brave as she was, the disaster would not have been this bad.”

Previous reports said Park had stayed behind on the ferry to calm down frightened children and hand out life jackets. She did not save one for herself, telling passengers she would not leave the boat until everyone was safely off and accounted for. “After saving you, I will get out. The crew goes out last,” she said, witnesses told Yonhap news agency.

“Park pushed shocked passengers towards the exit even when the water was up to her chest,” said one witness.

Park’s body was one of the first to be recovered from the sea. She had dropped out of university two years ago when her father passed away so as to help support her family, including a younger sister. “I love you, I’m sorry,” her mother cried as Park’s coffin was carried out of the funeral hall in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Tuesday.

The story of Park’s heroic attempts to save other passengers has been widely covered in the local media, prompting calls on the Internet for her designation as a martyr and to be buried at Seoul National Cemetery.

Floral tributes have been sent from all over the country, reported Time magazine online. One read: “We will not forget your noble spirit.” AGENCIES

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