Thursday, 17 July 2014

Helicopter crash kills South Korean ferry rescue workers

In a fresh tragedy related to South Korea’s deadly ferry sinking, a helicopter carrying rescue workers who participated in the search operation for those still missing crashed on Thursday, killing all five on board.

The helicopter crashed onto a street in the southern city of Gwangju just before 11am while traveling back to a base in the north of the country. No other serious injuries were reported. The reason for the crash is unclear.

The crash comes almost exactly three months after one of South Korea’s worst-ever maritime disasters. At the site of the April 16 sinking, divers continue to search for missing bodies, while a key fugitive remains on the run and politicians are squabbling over the creation of an independent committee to look into disaster.

On Wednesday afternoon, 43 student survivors of the sinking arrived at the National Assembly in Seoul to support a hunger strike outside parliament by parents of their dead classmates to demand the swift passage of a bill to set up the committee. The students walked for two days from their high school in Ansan, a Seoul suburb, about 47 kilometers, or 29 miles, away.

Politicians are split over issues such as whether to give the committee power to investigate and prosecute. The ruling party opposes the idea, noting that the case is already being investigated by authorities and insisting that state powers can’t be given to a civil committee.

Opposition politicians and the families argue that the committee can’t function properly unless given such strong authority.

“We will do our best to get the bill passed in order to seek the truth and allow no ‘sanctuary’ of the investigation,” Kim Han-gil, co-leader of major opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said during a meeting with family members.

Since the disaster, progress has been slow in leading the country out of national trauma.

In May, President Park Geun-hye made a tearful apology in front of the nation and promised to overhaul safety standards, get rid of social ills, including collusion between the government and civilians, and announced a set of measures to prevent a similar tragic case from happening again.

Separate trials of the owners of the ferry company and of captain Lee Jun-seok and 14 crew members of the sunken Sewol are in their early stages. Most of the bodies from the wreck have been recovered, although divers are still making daily searches of the murky sea in search of 11 missing people who traveled on the ferry.

Authorities are also still chasing a man and his son who are believed to been deeply involved in the operation of the doomed ferry.

If parliament fails to pass the bill by Thursday, which is the last day of the current parliamentary session, it will have to wait until next extraordinary session, likely later this month.

Thursday 17 July 2014


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