As giant barges were gearing up to lift the sunken Sewol ferry from the sea off South Korea's southwestern coast on Wednesday, family members of its deceased and missing passengers, mostly students from Danwon High School in Ansan, south of Seoul, were nervously waiting for news.
The grief-stricken families said they have waited more than 1,000 days in anxiety and frustration for the moment the Sewol ferry appears above the water.
As many as 1,072 days have passed since the Sewol ferry sank off Jindo's Paengmok Port on April 16, 2014, killing 304 passengers and crew members and leaving nine others missing in the nation's worst maritime disaster.
A group of 46 family members of ill-fated Danwon High School students left a Sewol memorial center in Ansan for the port of Paengmok early Wednesday morning, as media reports said that the refloating of the 145-meter-long, 6,825-ton ship was imminent.
The families all said they wish to see the Sewol emerge from the water as soon as possible, while keeping in touch with another group of families who were staying on Donggeocha Island, just 1.6 km away from the sinking point, to more closely observe the work."We bereaved families have spent over the past three years waiting for the hoisting of the ferry. As the ship is about to appear before us, I feel kind of choked. I can hardly say anything," said Shin Chang-shik, one of the family members who arrived in Jindo.
Shin, whose son Ho-sung died in the ferry sinking, said he sincerely wishes for the recovery of the remains of the missing passengers.
"The entire truth behind the Sewol's sinking must come to light with the hoisting of the ship. We'll also look for the last traces of our lost children on the ferry," said a middle-aged woman, who also lost her child in the disaster.
Other parents of deceased Danwon students gathered at the Ansan altar to encourage each other and wait for good news.
"I wish the test lifting would lead to the actual hoisting. As many said before, some external factors appear to have contributed to the unusually fast sinking of the giant vessel," Kim Nae-geun, father of Danwon High School victim Kim Min-ji, said while waiting impatiently at the Ansan altar.
"I wish the truth would be revealed after the ferry is salvaged."The pain of waiting appeared to be particularly acute among the families of the nine missing passengers. Four Danwon students and two teachers are among them.
Growing impatient, seven of them, including the parents of three missing Danwon students, managed to hire a small boat to get closer to the scene of the salvage work Wednesday morning. During their boat ride, they exchanged words of encouragement and the latest news with their acquaintances through smartphones.
"I had long stayed at the port of Paengmok, hesitating to take this boat for fear that our presence may interfere with the salvage work," said Lee Geum-hee, whose daughter Cho Eun-hwa still remained unaccounted for."I wish the search for the missing will be given top priority after the ferry is brought above the sea. I want to return home with my daughter," said Lee.
Kwan Oh-bok, elder brother of missing Sewol passenger Kwon Jae-geun, agreed with Lee, saying he prays the remains of all of nine missing people would be recovered after the ferry is successfully hoisted.
Park Geun-mi, mother of missing student Heo Da-yun, commented on the calm sea, saying that it was also this calm a year ago when workers were able to lift the ferry's fore body.
"At that time, the sea was very peaceful. I wish heaven would help again today," she said.
At the Ansan memorial center, a group of 10 volunteers were helping with preparations for the upcoming third anniversary of the Sewol disaster.
A volunteer said he hopes the ferry is successfully hoisted and that it would help even slightly ease the bitterness of the bereaved families.