As the Korean Ferry Tragedy Unfolds

As more details emerge about the tragic sinking of the Korean ferry, it is so sad to learn the finding that many of the students had the same type of injury, broken fingers. Why?

“presumably from the children frantically trying to climb the walls or floors to escape in their last moments…”


Most of the victims were high school children, who were told to stay where they were for their own safety.

When I read that the kids were told to stay put, I immediately was transported back in time to 9/11 when people who worked in the South Tower were told to go back to their offices after the North Tower had been hit. Bad advice…

The right reaction was panic. To survive the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the right thing to do was to follow instinct, not procedure. Don’t wait to find out what is happening. Don’t go back for your briefcase. Don’t heed announcements that the building is safe.


They had just 16½ minutes before a second jet, United Airlines Flight 175, would tear through the 78th through 84th floors of their building. In that brief window of time, 2,000 people from those floors and up faced a critical choice: stay or go. They didn’t know what was coming, but if they moved quickly enough, they survived.

It is not clear who advised the children to stay put, but the report notes that, “Several crew members, including the captain, left the ferry as it was sinking.” Thus, people who you’d assume would or should have known better were not in a position to assist and render sound advice in an emergency. These are individuals who must receive some training in potential maritime disasters including sinking.

And, a criminal investigation is underway with negligent homicide being entertained:

“The charged crew members appear to have not carried out their duty to rescue the passengers at all,” prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told a briefing. “Based on the fact that they were gathered in the bridge, engine room and so on, then left the boat, we believe negligent homicide is applicable.”

It is very difficult to know what to do when faced with a potential or eventual tragedy of such large proportion. And second guessing what people should have done often boils down to Monday morning quarterbacking.

I don’t particularly subscribe to this advice: “The right reaction was panic.” Panic can lead to pandemonium and injury. But still, I can’t help but think that some forms of preparation may be helpful.

But, does anyone listen to the flight attendant’s emergency instructions before taking off…really? How many look at evacuation plans? How many in malls, movie theaters, and other public places look for where the exits are? How many parents/adults with small children really look closely at the height requirements before putting their children on amusement park rides? How many know where the fire extinguishers are? How many have fire extinguishers, smoke detectors (check to see if batteries work?), and CO detectors (check to see if batteries work?)?

I could go on; you get the drift.

Let’s face it, we’re not always particularly security-conscious (some more; some less; and perhaps depends on a given situation and if something happened to trigger or call for greater scrutiny).

I think that common sense on 9/11 called to evacuate and get out of the South Tower and set up at least a 10-block perimeter.

I’m not so sure about the ferry; in retrospect, staying put/behind proved fatal for so many.

I hope that after the “dust settles” on this terrible tragedy that better security and safety mechanisms are put in place.


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