Most of the 475 passengers on the ferry that sank off the southwest coast on Wednesday were students and teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on a school trip.
Over 400 parents gathered Wednesday at a temporary rescue shelter in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province and nearby hospitals where survivors are being treated. They were anxious yet hopeful in the morning, when the school texted them that all youngsters had worn life vests and were safe.
But the government's announcement in the afternoon that more than 290 are missing sent shockwaves through the families, and dozens fainted.
According to the Korea Coast Guard, only 75 out of the school's 325 students aboard the Sewol had been rescued as of 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday. There is still a possibility that some of the 69 survivors who have yet to be identified are also students of the school, but the chances are that three quarters of the school's students are missing.
Surviving students said those who went missing had been at the back of the ferry and on the third floor.
Namkoong Kee of Yonsei University's Severance Hospital said the survivors and friends of the victims could suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, and the survivors may need to go through six months to a year of psychiatric treatment.
The students were to go on a four-day school trip to a resort island of Jeju.
The Sewol was to have left Incheon at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday but departure was delayed due to fog. The ferry finally sailed at 9 p.m. and sank about 11 hours later, just before arriving at its destination on Jeju.
Parents complained that the school went ahead with the travel plans despite heavy fog.