This photo taken on April 16, 2014 shows helicopters heading to aid 476 passengers and crew aboard a South Korean ferry sinking on its way to Jeju island from Incheon, some 20 kilometres off the island of Byungpoong in Jindo. AFP PHOTO/YONHAP
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A ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's southern coast on Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by dozens of ships and helicopters.The high number of people unaccounted for -- likely trapped in the ship or floating in the ocean -- raised fears that the death toll could rise drastically, making it one of South Korea's biggest ferry disasters since 1993, when 292 people died. At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft swarmed around the stricken ship.Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and Security Ministry, said 30 crew members, 325 high school students, 15 school teachers and 89 non-student passengers were aboard the ship.Many South Korean high schools organize trips for students in their first or second years, and Jeju is a popular destination. The students on the ferry were in their second year, which would make most of them 16 or 17 . Teachers tried to soothe them, saying that the students on the ferry would be fine.The Maritime Ministry said the two previous deadliest ferry disasters were in 1970 when 323 people drowned and in 1993 when 292 people died.
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