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“Gather ‘round, folks!” Mrs. Lim yelled over our chaotic bickering. “We’re about to take roll!”
The students gathered around the dock. Mark put his arm over my shoulder as we migrated forward with our luggage, exclaiming, “Lucas, this is the trip we’re been waiting for our whole high school career! C’mon fire it up man!”
He was right, this trip on a ferry from Seoul to Pyeongchang was the most anticipated moment for all of us as seniors. “Okay let’s go!” I shouted. The group cheered as a response.
Mrs. Lim began calling our names, each of us replying with a “here” or “yes.” Then, we began to board the ferry one by one with en envelope of our room number and key card. Luckily, I was paired with Mark, Johnny, and Jackson, my best buddies from childhood.
The room was so small, I almost felt claustrophobic as we settled in and unpacked our luggage. There were two bunk beds, a narrow space in between, and a small desk near the far end by the window. We had to keep all of our belongings inside our luggage and under the bed, or else there would be no room to stand. Definitely not a great start, but I casually shrugged it off.
“Who’s up for some Egyptian War?” Mark asked as he pulled out a deck of cards from his jacket pocket. In unison, the four of us formed a tiny circle, rubbing our hands together for the intense game.
A few minutes in, we heard the blow of the horn which signaled the ferry’s departure. Then, we heard the speaker announce, “Greetings, and welcome aboard. Our destination is Pyeongchang, and the estimated time of arrival is tomorrow morning at 7:30. The current time is 17:45. The weather forecast is fog with a slight chance of rain, so please refrain from excessive horseplay on deck. We will now begin the safety procedure tutorial. Please check under your desks that there are four life jackets in case of an emergency...” The tutorial went on for about give minutes while we gave a blank stare to the speakers. “...Thank you, and enjoy your ride.”
Immediately Mark, Johnny, Jackson, and I resumed our game of intense Egyptian War. We continued to play until our palms were red from slapping the cards. After the last round, I leaned back into a stretch while Mark and Johnny were busy counting our cards to decide the final winner. Glancing at the clock on the wall, the time was now 19:03. A knock came at our door, which contained our delivery of dinner. Starved, we all ripped open the paper bag and claimed our serving of fried rice, chips, and punch juice. As I was sitting on the carpet munching on my bag of chips, I felt a slight tilt from the floor which seemed slightly different from the normal.
I turned toward the boys and asked, “Did you guys just feel that?”
“Like...a weird tilt or something.”
“Nope, nothing of the sort. Plus, isn’t it completely normal to experience some tilts when you’re in the middle of an ocean?” Mark reasoned.
I nodded in agreement and continued eating. A couple minutes later, however, my heart sank as the captain announced, “Hello all, my deepest apologies for the sudden interruption, but we wanted to notify you that we have just made a sharp turn, and our crew has diagnosed a slight tilt. Please stay inside your rooms as we are still trying to steer the ferry back on course.”
We all became silent for a moment, then laughed nervously to each other. At this point, I pulled out my phone to text my parents about the issue. Suddenly, I felt the floor beneath me even more titled than before. Now I was starting to sweat a little on my forehead. I stole a glance at Mark, and it seemed he was feeling lean too.
After a few minutes, the announcement came on again, this time with a more panicked voice. “Captain here. To all passengers, please stay inside your rooms, I repeat, please stay inside your rooms. We are currently experiencing a ten degree tilt, and our crew is working very hard to fix this. Thank you for your patience.”
Even as he said these words, I could physically feel my left side lowering ever so slightly. I shook my head, turning to my roommates, “We’re going to be fine, right?”
“Hopefully...” It was as if the power and adrenaline has been drained from their souls. We stood in silence, looking down at our phones for a response from our parents. My phone rang with my mother’s call, and I quickly accepted it.
“What’s the situation now?” My mother asked.
“It seems the ferry is leaning ten degrees, maybe even more now. Ma, what should we do? The captain is telling us to stay inside, but wouldn’t that be more dangerous for us?”
On the other side, I could hear my mother calling my father over. “Lucas,” my father said. “Stay on the phone with us ok? If it comes down to it, meaning the ferry sinks, you all will need to escape by life boats ok? Keep us updated on the situation and listen to what we say.”
The speakers came on again, “Captain here. We are experiencing a near 20 degree tilt. To follow safety protocol, please remain inside your rooms until further notice.”
My father exclaimed, “Twenty degrees! This is definitely a serious issue! Lucas, you’re with Mark, Johnny, and Jackson right?”
“Yes, we’re in the same room.”
“Put me on speaker.”
“Got it.” I gestured to Mark, Johnny, and Jackson to come over.
“Ok boys, listen to me, this is what I want you to do. Find a teacher and go up all the way to the deck with your safety jackets and find the nearest life boat. Be prepared to deploy the life boats at any time if the situation calls for it. I’ve learned about the safety protocol of sea vessels when I was in college. Trust me, you should not stay in your room when the ferry is tilting more than twenty degrees.” I could hear my mother in the background shouting, “Please come back home safely, you guys!”
We all looked at each other and walked to the door in unison.
“Let’s get Mrs. Lim. Her room is 304, right?”
Johnny nodded and led us to room 304. We knocked, and Mrs. Lim opened the door with a confused and shocked face, “Aren’t you all supposed to be in your rooms? What are you doing here?”
My father told me to give the phone to Mrs. Lim.
After a short conversation, Mrs. Lim ushered us to the stairs as she knocked on every door in the hallway and explained the situation to the students. By the end, we had our whole class crowded behind us as we made our way up to the deck.
Once on deck, I shouted over the wind, “Mrs. Lim, do we have everyone from our class?”
“We do!” She replied as she checked off the last students on her clipboard.
This was a rather small ferry, so our thirty-five students, three chaperones, and one teacher were essentially the only passengers on this trip. But the tilt was so apparent at this point, everyone knew something was not right. I sighed in relief and spoke to my father, who was still on the phone with us, “What should we do now?”
After a brief pause, he replied, “Let’s keep an eye on the situation for now. I have already dialed the police, and they’re on their way. Do you see any life boats on the side of the ferry?”
Jackson tapped my shoulder and pointed to the far right of the deck, where about ten life boats were compressed together.
“I see them, but they aren’t blown up.”
Now the captain’s announcement came once again, “Hello passengers, the ferry is currently exhibiting a tilt of thirty degrees.” His voice was panicked. “Please be ready to abandon ship at any moment. Take your life jackets and head up to the upper deck. There are life boats with air pumps provided at the far right side. Please do so in a calm fashion to avoid any injuries.”
The students on deck were now murmuring nervously to each other. Mark and I ran to the life boats with a few chaperones. By the time we managed to pump up all ten boats, Mrs. Lim had lined up everyone in ten different groups. We waited for the dreaded moment as we all grabbed onto the railings while the small ferry continued to sink. The captain had also come up to the deck with his crew while bowing to us in apology. We nodded back at them and prepared ourselves as the water crept closer and closer. When the surface of the water was practically within arm’s reach, all ten groups deployed the life boats at once. Mark, Johnny, Jackson, and I stayed together with a few other classmates as we made the final push away from the sinking ferry.
I was already numb to the freezing wind and cold ocean water as we sat still in the boat, waiting for rescue. Fortunately, soon helicopters arrived, officers were talking on their speakers, and ladders were released.
One by one, we grabbed the hanging ladder and climbed up slowly with the help of multiple police officers. As I climbed to the top, I took one last glance back to the last portions of the ferry above the water, and stepped into the helicopter. A surge of relief rushed over my last moments of anxiety as leaned back into a warm cushion on the helicopter and finally emptied the chaos from my head.