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Gov't mulls honoring boy who first alerted ferry's sinking

All Headlines 15:17 April 25, 2014

sunken ferry-martyr designation

Tribute to fellow students

Gov't mulls honoring boy who first alerted ferry's sinking

ANSAN, South Korea, April 25 (Yonhap) -- The government is considering honoring a teenager who first alerted authorities when the South Korean ferry carrying hundreds of students began sinking by designating him as a martyr, officials said Friday.

The sophomore of Danwon High School, Choi Deok-ha, made the first distress call shortly after the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol made a fatal last turn before capsizing and sinking in waters off southwest coast last Wednesday.

Earnest wish for ferry passengers

The 18-year-old boy, who was on a school trip with over 300 other students and teachers, dialed the 119 emergency number, which put him through the Coast Guard, and asked for help in a shaking voice.

It was three minutes before the distress call by the Sewol to the vessel traffic service, Coast Guard revealed days after the incident.

Though his prompt alert helped save 174 out of 476 passenger on the day of ship's sinking, Choi was later found drowned inside the upturned and submerged ship.

Mourners

Rescue workers retrieved his body from the ship's main cabin on Wednesday, where many of missing passengers are believed to be trapped.

As the desperate search entered the 10th day, 181 have been confirmed dead, while 121 are still unaccounted for.

The large death toll was partly blamed on the captain's instruction that made passengers to stay inside even though the ship was severely listing, though he and other crews escaped via the evacuation route ahead of others.

Hero in ferry disaster

Considering that the body's early alert followed by other emergency calls helped save more people, the provincial government is reviewing related documents and witness accounts to consider the designation, officials said.

"Although the student played an important role in saving many passengers, he wasn't able to return alive," said Park Soo-young, a senior official of the Gyeonggi provincial government. "We will push for designating him as a martyr to honor his sacrifice."

His families or the local government in jurisdiction have to apply for the designation with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which is in charge of reviewing related documents.

If Choi is designated as a martyr, his body can be buried in a national cemetery, while bereaved families will be eligible for financial compensation, medical assistance and other incentives provided by the government.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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