Divers Continue Grim Task of Recovering Bodies From Sunken South Korean Ferry

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After days of fighting strong currents and low visibility, divers have finally been able to enter the Sewol, the ferry that sank last week near Mokpo, South Korea. As a result, the disaster's confirmed death toll has leaped to 156, with crews now consistently recovering bodies — most of them high-school students — from the ship's submerged cabins, hallways, and decks. The task is unimaginably grim:

... Most of the bodies found in the last two days had broken fingers, presumably from the children frantically trying to climb the walls or floors to escape in their last moments, media said.

"We are trained for hostile environments, but it's hard to be brave when we meet bodies in dark water," diver Hwang Dae-sik told Reuters, as the funerals of 25 students were held near the capital, Seoul.

The Associated Press reports that divers are preparing to tear through cabin walls so they can retrieve more victims. After that, cranes begin cutting up the boat and pulling the pieces from the water. The South Korean government has warned that salvaging the Sewol will eliminate the now very distant possibility that someone could have survived in the wreckage in an air pocket, as some families of passengers and crew had initially hoped. "Now we think we have to deal with this realistically," said a woman whose 17-year-old daughter is among the missing. "We don't want the bodies to decay further, so we want them to pull out the bodies as quickly as they can," she added.

The cause of the accident, which happened immediately after the ship made a sharp turn, is still not known.