Jindo, South Korea (CNN) — Anguished relatives of missing South Korean ferry passengers waited somberly for answers Thursday as rescuers fought bad weather, murky water, darkness and time to find a way deep into the capsized ship.
Authorities believe 276 people — many of them high school students on a field trip — may remain trapped inside the five-story ship. At least some, authorities say, could still be alive more than a day after the ship rolled over.
Meanwhile, the ferry’s captain is facing mounting questions about the incident.
Among other things, authorities are investigating the possibility the ship was off course when it ran into trouble, as well as reports that few of its lifeboats made it into the water, according to Kim Soo Hyeon, the chief of South Korea’s Yellow Sea Maritime Police Agency.
Ferry captain Lee Joon Suk, his head and face covered, broke down in tears when reporters asked if he had anything to say.
“I am sorry, I am at a loss for words,” Lee said at a South Korean Coast Guard office.
At least 20 people are known dead, according to the South Korean Ministry of Security and Public Administration. As of Thursday night, at least 179 had been rescued.
Weather hinders rescue
More than 170 ships and 512 divers have swarmed the ferry about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Jindo, South Korea, harbor where relatives have gathered.
But poor conditions have kept rescuers from reaching parts of the ship where air pockets could be sustaining survivors, authorities said.
Can they survive in air pockets?
Relentless rain, whipping winds and thick fog stymied rescue efforts Thursday. Three of the 22 volunteer divers who joined the search went missing in high tide but were later found, YTN said.
Efforts to pump air into the ship also failed because of the bad weather.
Despite government assurances that rescuers would work around the clock to save lives, some relatives were angry about the pace of the rescue operation.
“If the government cares for the people, our family, our children, please rescue our families and our children,” said Chang Min, whose second-grade son is among the missing.
The ferry, which is designed to carry cargo and vehicles as well as passengers, was on a routine passage between Incheon and the resort island of Jeju when something went awry shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday.
On board were more than 300 Seoul high school students and teachers on a four-day trip to the island.
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