+ A

Parents mourn kids’ fiery deaths in Shandong

May 13,2017
Parents of the 10 Korean kindergartners killed in a bus accident in Shandong Province, China, beseeched local authorities and the Korean government to find out the exact cause of the accident.

“I can still hear my daughter Na-yeon singing for me and shouting, ‘Daddy you can do it!’ on Parent’s Day,” said Park Seong-hyun, the 41-year-old father of Park Na-yeon, 6, who died in the accident on Tuesday.

“I still remember kissing my son goodbye on Tuesday morning, when he told me, ‘Daddy, the bus gets too hot,’” said Lee Jung-gyu, the 37-year-old father of Sang-yul, 3, who also died in the accident. “I mean, how hot was the bus on a normal day? Maybe it was too old and that’s why it caught fire so quickly.”

Kim Mi-seok, the 39-year-old father of Ka-eun, 4, who heads a group representing relatives of the victims, spoke through sobs as he recalled his daughter alive and how she looked when he identified her body. “I remember the pink dress that my daughter was wearing on that day,” Kim said. “It was burned and stuck on her thigh… that will be the image that I carry to my grave.

“I am the one to blame,” he said. “I sent her to kindergarten on that bus when she said she didn’t want to go that morning, giving dry coughs and even retching, pretending to be sick.”

Kim asked the Korean government to get deeply involved.

“We are ordinary Korean citizens making a living in a foreign land,” he said. “We ask the newly elected president to get involved in the investigation to determine the cause of the accident.”

The Chinese government said it is thoroughly investigating the accident.

“The central government, the Shandong provincial government and the Weihai city government are all completely involved in investigating the accident and trying to determine its cause,” said Sun Licheng, vice governor of Shandong, in a meeting at Weihai with Korean Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo on Thursday. “We have also sent all evidence we found on the site of the accident to agencies in Tianjin, Qingdao and Yantai for close-up examinations.

“We need a bit more time before we announce our findings,” he said.

A fiery accident in the Taojiakuang tunnel in Weihai, a port city in eastern Shandong, killed 12 people, including 11 kindergartners heading to a Korean international school on Tuesday. There were 13 passengers on the bus, including the teacher in charge, who is reported to have been severely injured, and the driver, who was killed. Both were Chinese.

“We have not uncovered how old the bus was,” said Lee Yong-gyu, board director of the Korean international school, Zongshi International School. “There was a fire extinguisher on the bus, but it seems there were no emergency hammers to break the windows.”

The door of the bus may have been blocked by the wall of the tunnel, as videos of the accident show a fiery bus standing in the tunnel, close to the tunnel wall.

The Zongshi International School had a contract with the Weihai Public Travel Corporation to run the school buses.

Local authorities are investigating the company and the school.

A memorial altar for the 12 victims was set up at a Korean community center in Weihai on Thursday.

Ambassador Kim conveyed messages from relatives of the Korean kindergartners who died in the accident to the Chinese government.

“One father of a victim said that he stopped his wife from going to the beach to drown herself,” Kim said. “He said he stopped her at the last minute, finding a suicide note at home.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping extended his condolences to President Moon Jae-in over the phone about the bus accident and promised to thoroughly investigate the case.

Relatives of the victims visited the site of the accident Wednesday, 34 hours after the disaster.

BY SHIN KYUNG-JIN AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]