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Families torn apart by Danube cruise disaster

June 01,2019
It was supposed to have been a fun trip abroad with friends after retirement, or a getaway to make a fresh start after quitting a job.

No one who boarded the Hableany tour boat on the Danube River in Budapest on Wednesday night expected what happened next.

There were nine Korean families traveling on the Hableany when it collided with a larger boat and sank, killing at least seven people.

“A big boat approached us, and I had a second to think, ‘Is it going to hit us’ before it did and we were overboard,” a 32-year-old woman surnamed Yoon told her father over the phone on Thursday.

It was the first time Yoon’s father heard from Yoon since he found out about the accident.

“I could not breathe and I thought it was the end, but a girl around my age saved me, and I think she saved mom, too,” Yoon said over the phone call. “Mom’s at another hospital [from where I’m at]. I’m going to go find her. I’ll call you again.”

The woman that Yoon said saved her, also a passenger on the boat, reportedly threw them a lifebelt. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a briefing Thursday that none of the passengers were wearing life vests.

On board the Hableany were a total of 30 Korean tourists and three Korean tour guides. They were all traveling on a package tour organized by Very Good Tour, a Korean tourism agency. There were also two Hungarian crew members.

The boat was approaching the Margaret Bridge near Budapest’s Parliament Building on Wednesday night when it collided with a larger boat. The Hableany capsized and started to sink within seven seconds, according to Hungarian police.

Only seven Korean passengers are confirmed to have survived. Seven other Koreans were confirmed dead, and 19 Koreans and the two Hungarians were still missing as of press time Friday.

Among the missing is a 6-year-old girl surnamed Kim, her 38-year-old mother, her 62-year-old grandfather and 58-year-old grandmother. The family all live in Incheon. Kim’s mother, who runs a small skin care clinic in Incheon, organized the trip to thank her parents, who often take care of Kim while she is at work.

“I know of the old couple,” the owner of a restaurant near the Kim’s home in Incheon told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday, and said Kim was close to her grandfather. “I heard the daughter prepared the trip for the parents. The neighbors are all terribly concerned.”

Kim’s father, who did not go on the trip, could not be reached.

Siblings from South Chungcheong - a 31-year-old woman surnamed Jeong and her 28-year-old brother - went on the trip together. Jeong’s brother had reportedly quit his job at a conglomerate affiliate in Korea and went on the trip with his sister to refresh his mind.

Jeong survived the accident. Her brother was still missing as of press time Friday.

A 50-year-old woman surnamed Hwang was traveling with a relative, a 42-year-old woman surnamed Kim, her 21-year-old daughter and Kim’s 45-year-old sister. Hwang survived but the other three are among the missing 19.

Many family groups were also traveling with friends.

A 58-year-old woman surnamed Seol and her 63-year-old husband went on the trip with two other couples from their high school alumni group.

Other than one man surnamed Ahn, all five are among the missing 19. All of the men in the group were in their 60s and had retired recently.

A 64-year-old woman surnamed Jeong went on the trip with two of her friends, a 66-year-old surnamed Lee and a 65-year-old surnamed Ahn. They were all graduates of Muhak Girls’ High School in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul. Other than Lee, the two are among the missing 19.

“My wife was so excited about the trip because it was the first time she had gone abroad with her girlfriends,” Jeong’s husband told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I’m just waiting to hear the next available news. But I am afraid that there is not much time left. I just hope the people on site do their best to save lives.”

Among the missing is one of the three Korean tour guides at Very Good Tour, a 36-year-old surnamed Lee.

“What do I do, what do I do,” repeated Lee’s mother over the phone to the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday. “I am terrified.”

Also missing is a 72-year-old man, a resident of Songpa District, southern Seoul. He was the oldest person on the boat. He was reportedly traveling with his wife. Both are among the missing.

“They were a very close couple,” a security guard at the man’s apartment told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I don’t know why they had to be on that boat.”

The 30 Korean tourists were traveling through six countries in the region, including Croatia and the Czech Republic, from May 25 and were to fly back to Korea this coming Sunday.

BY JEON ICK-JIN, KIM BANG-HYUN AND CHOI MO-RAN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]