SEOUL, South Korea — DNA testing on a bone found in waters where a sunken ferry was recently raised has identified one of the nine missing passengers from the 2014 disaster that killed more than 300 people, South Korean officials said Wednesday.
Testing confirmed that the bone found May 5 was from the remains of teacher Koh Chang-seok, said the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. Most of the victims were students on a high school trip.
A total of 304 people died when the ferry Sewol sank on April 16, 2014, touching off an outpouring of national grief and soul searching in South Korea about long-ignored public safety and regulatory failures. Public outrage over what was widely seen as a botched rescue effort by the government contributed to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office and arrested in March over broad corruption charges.
Divers recovered 295 bodies from the ship’s wreckage and nearby seas before the government stopped underwater searches after seven months. Others missing passengers include four students, another teacher, a woman, a man and his 6-year-old son.
Finding the remains of the missing victims would bring a measure of closure to one of South Korea’s deadliest disasters. In March, salvage workers completed a Herculean effort to raise the 6,800-ton ferry from waters off the country’s southwest coast and tow it to port in Mokpo, where investigators continue to search the wreckage. In recent days, they reported the discovery of suspected human bones that they put up for DNA testing.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Koh’s bone was not found in the wreckage, but by divers who were searching fenced waters where the ferry was raised from. Survivors have said Koh and the other missing teacher, Yang Seung-jin, tried to help their students escape until the very end, moving around passenger cabins to distribute life vests to the teens even as the ship began to capsize.
Yang’s wife, Yoo Baek-hyeong, emotionally reacted in March after the ferry was raised and put on a transport vessel for what became a weeklong journey to Mokpo.
“He was in the dark and frightening deep seas for three years, but he’s now going to Mokpo,” Yoo said then. “I want to find even just a piece of his hair. He would have been wearing his wedding ring. … I want to find all of those things.”
Koh’s family members weren’t immediately reachable for comment after Wednesday’s announcement.
The ferry’s captain survived and is serving a life sentence after a court found him guilty of committing homicide through “willful negligence” because he fled the ship without issuing an evacuation order.
Accusations that Park was out of contact for several hours on the day of the sinking were included in the impeachment bill lawmakers passed last December.
This story has been corrected to show that the woman quoted is the wife of another missing teacher, not Koh.