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Diver Describes Search for Cheonan`s Missing Crew

Posted April. 01, 2010 02:58,   


Upon diving into the water, Hong Ung, 26, felt surrounded by pitch darkness. The veteran scuba diver could not see a member of the ship salvage unit who helped him go underwater, let alone seeing something in front of him.

Hong was struck with awe though he has eight years of naval diving experience. Holding onto a rope, he went down inch by inch. Suddenly he felt cold. He reached a point where the water temperature changed. He then developed a headache.

Worse, the currents off the coast of Baengnyeong Island struck Hong, who was constantly pushed by the currents. He gave a signal to an accompanying ship salvage unit member to take a short break.

Hong was struck by much colder water again as he reached another point where the water temperature changed. He felt like he was hit hard on the head and soon passed out.

He later said, “At the time, I couldn’t see anything.” When he came to, the ship salvage unit member woke him up by pulling a rope tied to Hong’s hand.

Hong told himself, “I can’t do this anymore.” Though he wanted to rescue his Navy colleague petty officer Yim Jae-yeop from the sunken naval vessel Cheonan, he gave the signal to go up.

Hong told The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday that he frequently hunched himself due to the aftereffects of hypothermia.

Upon hearing that the Cheonan sank, he suggested setting up a civil search and rescue team and volunteered to join. All of the missing crew members were Hong’s colleagues.

Hong went underwater to rescue his colleagues and let their families know what was going on underwater. Ship salvage unit members with 20 years of experience dissuaded him from going underwater, with one saying, “It’s impossible even for us to go 45 meters underwater.”

Hong said, “Since I came, I’d like to help the families of the missing crew and the tirelessly working Navy by making a little effort.”

Contrary to his expectations, going underwater required more than a little effort, he added.

Around sunset Sunday, the base of rescue operations on Baengnyeong Island asked him to go underwater to identify an object the ship salvage unit discovered. Hong accepted and immediately boarded a rubber boat.

When he arrived at the diving site 20 minutes later, the sun had set and only the dark sea was visible. “My purpose was clear, but I was scared when I was in the water,” he said.

He said he did not feel cold when entering the water, but soon encountered currents as cold as ice. Temperatures underwater suddenly change and sometimes drop below zero.

“Have you ever been hit hard on the head? That is what I felt like underwater. I felt my nervous system get dull. My view suddenly blurred and breathing got faster…” Hong said.

Feeling stuffy, Hong experienced shock. At the time, he said he thought he failed. Having no time to think about the families of the missing crew, he sent out an emergency signal for help and was pulled out of the water.

Upon hearing that Han Ju-ho, a senior military diver of the Navy’s underwater demolition team, died while doing rescue work, Hong said, “I respect him,” adding, “Only those who go underwater at the site of the sinking of the ship will know the great work Han did.”

Hong said he will perform search and rescue operations again after recovering his health. “I don’t have many things to do for the families of the missing crew,” Hong said with a grim look.