Ferry disaster: ‘Impossible to determine cause of owner’s death’

July 26, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

SEOUL:  South Korea’s forensic agency said yesterday it was impossible to determine the cause of death of a businessman linked to a ferry that sank and killed 304 people in April, deepening the mystery surrounding the final days of Korea’s most wanted man.

An autopsy and DNA tests on the badly decomposed body of ferry owner Yoo Byung-un revealed no evidence that he was poisoned, and there was also no indication of external trauma, forensic agency chief Seo Joong-seok said.

Yoo, 73, was found dead in an orchard on June 12 after eluding authorities for nearly two months in South Korea’s biggest manhunt, hiding behind the wall of a rural cabin in the final days while it was being searched.

Police identified his body only this week, 40 days after a farmer reported its discovery at his orchard, stirring a storm of public outrage at what many said was incompetent work to arrest Yoo over the ferry disaster.

“We are aware there are many questions and did our best, but it was impossible to determine the cause of death,” said Lee Han-young, a senior official at the forensic agency.

“It is possible in some cases involving decomposed bodies to determine the cause of death but, in Yoo Byung-un’s case, there was simply too much tissue damage so it was difficult to find leads that can determine the cause of death,” he said.

The autopsy found no evidence of trauma from a weapon or strangulation, although there was heavy decomposition damage to the tissues in the head and neck, Lee said.

Kang Shin-mong, a forensic expert at the Catholic University of Korea’s School of Medicine, said after the agency’s announcement it was possible Yoo died of hypothermia, citing his age and a history of diabetes.

Weather records showed temperatures in the region where his body was found dipped to 12 degrees Celsius  at night in late May and early June.

Yoo headed the family that owned the operator of the ferry, Sewol, which capsized and sank on April 16 on a routine journey. Many of those killed were children from the same school on a class trip.

The ferry disaster triggered outrage across South Korea,  especially when video footage emerged of crew members abandoning ship while the children stayed in their cabins as instructed.

Three police officers, including the provincial chief of the region where his body was found, were sacked this week.       

Reuters

 

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