Survivors of the Navy corvette Cheonan said they heard two ear-splitting explosions one or two seconds apart before the ship sank but did not smell gunpowder. The survivors broke their silence at a press conference Wednesday, 13 days after the ship sank on March 26.
They ruled out that the ship struck a rock or broke apart due to metal fatigue or age.
Speaking at the Armed Forces Capital Hospital after a two-week embargo ordered by the Navy, Chief Ordnance Officer Oh Sung-tak said, "I was preparing a report in a room on the second lower deck when there was a loud bang, my body flew up in the air, and then there was a blackout. The sound was ear-splitting. The moment there was a second bang, the ship listed 90 degrees."
An expert said, "The first bang was most likely caused by shock waves that occurred after a torpedo or a mine exploded underwater. The second bang was highly likely caused by a bubble jet."
But a military source said more investigation is needed, even if survivors' testimony seems to confirm an underwater explosion as none of them saw the blast with their own eyes. "At the time, only two sailors were on deck standing watch," one sailor testified. "But they did not look around 360 degrees but kept their eyes forward in the direction the ship was going, so it would have been difficult for them to identify if a water column rose behind their back."
Asked if he smelled gunpowder right after the explosions, Oh said, "I'm the chief ordnance officer in charge of ammunition. If gunpowder had gone off, there would have been a fire and it would have smelled strongly of gunpowder. But I smelled none at all after the blast."
Chief Petty Officer Kim Byung-nam said, "If a ship strikes a rock or a sandbank, there will normally be a piercing noise, but I guess it was caused by an external explosion."
Asked whether the ship could have given out due to metal fatigue or age, Navy Lieutenant Lee Chae-kwon said, "Normally all equipment is inspected two or three days before setting sail, so I don't think it was caused by superannuation of the equipment or the hull. Besides, the ship did not leak before the blasts."