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Almost 300 people were unaccounted for Wednesday after a ferry mainly carrying students on a high school trip capsized and sank off South Korea's coast.
Three deaths were confirmed. One rescued passenger told The Associated Press he believed that many people had been trapped inside the ship when it sank.
Dozens of nearby boats and divers scrambled to rescue passengers who had been on the Sewol.
Choppers Rescue Passengers From Capsized Ferry
Helicopters airlifted some passengers from the capsized vessel, but later aerial pictures showed 95 percent of the vessel had become submerged.
The ferry sent a distress call at about 9 a.m. local time Wednesday (8 p.m. Tuesday ET) after it began leaning to one side, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration.
"I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live"
One student, Lim Hyung-min, told broadcaster YTN that he leapt into the ocean and then swam to a nearby rescue boat.
"As the ferry was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each another," Lim said, adding that some people were bleeding. Once he jumped, the ocean "was so cold. ... I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live."
A South Korean government spokesman told reporters at 5.30 a.m. ET that there had been 459 people on board the Sewol, including 325 students, 15 teachers, 89 other passengers and a crew of 30.
Only 164 of those on board were confirmed rescued, and three dead - leaving 292 unaccounted for. Authorities had earlier announced that most passengers had been rescued but officials said there had been an error in tallying the figures.
A government spokesman told reporters one of the dead was a crew member, the second was a senior high school male student, the third was male - possibly a student.
The vessel had been traveling to the southern tourist island of Jeju. The trip from Incheon to Jeju is usually about 14 hours, so the ferry was about three hours from its destination when it made the distress call.
Ship Capsizes, Starts to Slip Under Waves
The area of the accident was clear of fog, unlike further north up the coast which had been shrouded in heavy fog that led to the cancellation of many ferry services
Another witness told YTN there had been a "loud impact and noise" before the vessel started sinking.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that passengers had been instructed to jump overboard while wearing life vests.
Almost 20 helicopters and more than 30 navy and coast guard vessels were at the scene, a government official told Reuters. Navy divers were also deployed, and a U.S. Navy ship that was on routine patrol in the area said it had responded.
The ferry has a capacity of about 900 people. Shipping records show it was built in Japan in 1994.
Julie Yoo, Jason Cumming and Eric Baculinao of NBC News, David Wyllie of BreakingNews.com, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.