The high number of people unaccounted for — likely trapped in the submerged ship or floating in the ocean — raised fears that the death toll could rise drastically.
Some 164 survivors were rescued from the listing “Sewol” before it fully capsized, but the vessel eventually became completely submerged except for the tip of its keel.
Many of those missing are senior high school students who were departing on a field trip. One survivor said students could have been trapped inside the vessel when water rushed in.
Satellite estimates put the temperature of the sea where the ship capsized and sank at between 50 and 60 degrees — temperatures roughly equivalent to those off the Mid-Atlantic U.S. coast.
The maximum survival time for adults in such waters would be about six hours, according to Mike Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology at Britain’s Portsmouth University and co-author of “Essentials of Sea Survival”.
The only hope for survival would be if the passengers were trapped in air locks, Tipton said, adding that prediction of survival time was “more of an art than a science.”
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