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May 30, 2017

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Diary reveals harrowing search for Korea ferry bodies

SEOUL -- "Started search and touched a wall. Groped along the wall ... moved along further. Felt a body."

It's a grim diary entry for a harrowing job — the recovery of hundreds of bodies, most of them schoolchildren, from the cold, dark interior of a submerged South Korean ferry that sank more than three weeks ago.

One of the divers who worked on the rescue and recovery operation for nearly all that time kept a daily journal that outlines, in stark detail, the physical and psychological demands placed on the rescue teams.

It follows the progression of the operation, from the early optimism that some passengers might be found in air pockets, to the tragic realization that there were no survivors beyond the 172 who escaped the vessel before it fully capsized.

"My mind is totally occupied by one thought — find anyone still alive," the journal begins on April 19, three days after the 6,825-tonne Sewol went down.

Of the 476 on board the ferry, 325 were children from the same high school, on an organized trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

The diver was hired for the operation by a salvage company, Undine Marine Industry, on a temporary contract that forbade him to speak to the media.

His journal entries were published this week under the pseudonym "Mr. B" by Kookje Shinmun, a local newspaper in the southern city of Busan.

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