Korean Funerals held for five missing victims of Sewol ferry disaster

Korean Funerals held for five missing victims of Sewol ferry disaster
Posted on : Nov.21,2017 16:55 KSTModified on : Nov.21,2017 16:55 KST

Family members of Yang Seung-jin, Nam Hyeon-cheol, and Park Yeon-in carry their portraits around the Danwon High School one final time during a funeral ceremony on Nov. 20. The three were among five missing victims of the Sewol tragedy whose bodies were never recovered. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)
Clothing and various possessions filled the coffins of the deceased
Three years ago, students and teachers at Danwon High School departing on a spring trip with broad smiles on their faces and a father and son moving to Jeju Island with big dreams were taken from their families and lost their lives in the icy wind. On Nov. 20, the five victims of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry whose bodies were never recovered were sent to their eternal rest. Their bereaved families never managed to find a single bone of their bodies as they had desired. 1,314 days have passed since the Sewol tragedy, and 223 days since the hull of the ferry was raised onto dry land.

At 6 am on Nov. 20, funerals were held for Park Yeon-in and Nam Hyeon-cheol, male students who were 17 years old at the time of the accident, and Yang Seung-jin, a teacher who was 57 at the time, at the Jeil Funeral Home in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. Since their bodies were never recovered, their coffins were filled with their possessions – backpacks and clothing – that were found during the search of the hull. Because none of Yang’s possessions were found in this search, his coffin was filled with clothing he had worn and items he had used at school during his lifetime and with letters written by his family members. Family members, pupils and peers of the deceased attended the funeral procession to see them off on their final journey.

The wife of Yang Seung-jin cries as she touches his portrait during a funeral ceremony for the missing victims of the Sewol tragedy at Danwon High School on Nov. 20. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)

Yu Baek-hyeong, Yang’s widow, wept before getting into the hearse. “I’m sorry we couldn’t find you in the sea,” she said. Park and Nam’s parents also shed tears as they loaded the coffins in the hearses. The three hearses departed the funeral home at 6:30 am and arrived twenty minutes later at the front gate of Danwon High School, where the deceased had studied and taught. Bearing the funeral portraits, the bereaved visited the teachers’ room on the second floor of Danwon High School, where Yang had worked, and then circled the third floor classroom used by the sixth class of the second year of high school, to which Park and Nam had belonged.

The bereaved family members cried inconsolably, each holding a bundle filled with dirt from Danwon High School. “It breaks your mother’s heart for you to go without meeting one last time. Goodbye, Seung-jin!” Yang’s mother said, as she caressed the funeral portrait of her son and wept, causing those around her to break into tears as well.

The family of Nam Hyeon-cheol bows as his casket is loaded onto a hearse at the Jeil Funeral Home in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Nov. 20. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)

The funeral was attended by the April 16 Family Association, teaching staff from Danwon High School, employees from the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, and members of civic groups. A memorial was held in front of the Ansan City Hall, with over 100 city officials in attendance, before the group headed to the Suwon Crematorium. After the effects of the deceased were cremated, they were laid to rest at Seoho Memorial Park in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, at 11:30 am.

Kwon Jae-geun (52 years old at the time of the accident) and his son Kwon Hyeok-gyu (6 at the time), whose move to Jeju Island ended so tragically, were also laid to rest on Nov. 20. Kwon and his wife (Han Yun-ji), son, and daughter (Kwon Ji-yeon) all boarded the Sewol ferry at Incheon Port to move to Jeju Island, but only Ji-yeon survived the sinking. At the time of the accident, Hyeok-gyu reportedly helped his little sister escape by putting a life jacket on her. The truck carrying the Kwon’s possessions was discovered in the prow of the ship, in the second floor cargo compartment, on July 11.

The families of missing victims of the Sewol tragedy hold a press conference on Nov. 16 at the Mokpo New Port to announce that they will be leaving the area after three and a half years. (by Park Seung-hwa, Hankyoreh 21 staff reporter)

In contrast with the long wait, the funeral procession barely took 10 minutes. During the procession, which was conducted in great solemnity at the funeral home at Asan Medical Center, located in the Songpa District of Seoul at 6:30 am, a black limousine hearse and a bus departed from the funeral home, bearing the coffins containing the father’s and son’s effects. The funeral photo of Han, Kwon’s wife, went in front, followed by the coffins, as weeping family members called the names of the departed, reluctant to let them go.

Kwon’s coffin also contained the clothing of his wife, whose remains had been previously discovered and already laid to rest. “Since his remains were never recovered, we chose some clothing from their belongings and placed it in the coffin,” said Kwon’s older brother, Kwon O-bok, 63, through his sobs. The father’s and son’s coffins were cremated at Manwoldang, at Incheon Family Park, and laid to rest in the memorial to the Sewol victims who were not students or teachers at Danwon High School. Of the 476 people who boarded the Sewol ferry on Apr. 16, 2014, 304 died in the accident. The funerals of the five whose remains were never found are the final funerals of the Sewol victims. The families of those who were not recovered and other members of the April 16 Family Association are calling for the Special Sewol Investigative Commission to be reinstated to carry out a thorough inquiry of the accident.

“We must not allow a tragedy like the Sewol to be repeated, and we must learn from the tragedy by creating a comprehensives system that can be activated regardless of the accident. The Second Special Sewol Investigative Commission’s mandate should be renewed so that the tragedy can be investigated thoroughly, not leaving behind a shadow of a doubt,” the families of the victims said during a press conference held on Nov. 16 at Mokpo New Port, in South Jeolla Province, the current location of the Sewol.

“We have come this far with the desperate hope of sending at least one bone fragment to a warm place. Though we are sad and having a hard time right now, we have decided to bury our family members in our hearts. We humbly express our gratitude to the people of Jindo Island and to Koreans around the country for their dedicated help and to the workers who risked their lives to lead the search and rescue efforts,” the family members said during a joint memorial service at Mokpo New Port on Nov. 18.

With their waiting finally over after three long years, the family members said goodbye to Mokpo New Port. As the procession of hearses was departing, the tens of thousands of yellow ribbons tied to the fences at Mokpo New Port fluttered in a stiff breeze, as if to wave farewell. “Goodbye now! We’ll never forget you, Yang Seung-jin, Nam Hyeon-cheol, Park Yeong-in, Kwon Jae-geun, Kwon Hyeok-gyu. . .”

By Choi Min-young, staff reporter and Kim Gi-seong, south Gyeonggi correspondent