Newstapa, a newsroom run by the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism (KCIJ), has exclusively obtained black box videos from vehicles parked inside the Sewol ferry’s cargo decks. These videos were recently recovered by a private-sector digital forensic company upon a request by the Sewol investigative committee, an independent investigative body consisting of vessel and legal experts.

According to primary sources the committee submitted to Rep. Kim Hyun-kwon of Minjoo Party, the forensics company has taken over a total of 265 digital devices patched from the salvaged Sewol ferry. Kim was a member of The Special Sewol Investigative Commission, which ended its 1.5-year operation on Sept. 30, 2016.

Of 265 devices, the company succeeded recovering memory cards from 54 of them, including 26 mobile phones, 8 black boxes attached to vehicles, and 2 laptops.

KCIJ-Newstapa obtained 4 black boxes videos. The videos vividly captured every minute of what was happening inside the deck since the moment the ferry started tilting sharply. The videos remained thanks to a function that automatically records while a car is parked.

Videos captured a scene of parked vehicles drastically being pushed to the left side and seawater rapidly flowing in

The videos had been recorded from a total of 4 vehicles, three parked at the Deck C’s cargo space and one at the twin deck just above the cargo.

The following image shows: Each vehicle’s location, and angles of view captured from the vehicles’ black boxes.

A video from the vehicle parked at the twin deck showed a view, in which other cars were sliding to the front left side as the ferry sharply tilted to the left. 

According to official investigations done so far, this particular scene is presumed to have happened at around 8:50 a.m. on April 16, 2014.

However, the newly-recovered video’s screen shows the time was set at around 9 a.m. on April 12, 2014, meaning that the time setting at the black box device was incorrect.

First black box from a vehicle parked right next to the engine casing wall of the Deck C captured a vivid scene of the back of the ferry.

At the beginning of the video, the stern part of Deck C was at a complete calm, showing not even a tremor. Then, all of a sudden, goods stacked on a truck parked right in front of this vehicle (recording the video) had slid to the right. Soon, a number of cars parked at the twin deck -- shown in the upper left corner of the clip -- sharply inclined altogether to the right side.

Considering the direction Sewol ferry was heading, all the cars and goods had actually heeled over to the left.

This screen showed the movements started happening at 7:28 A.M., but is also appeared to be a time error.

Another short scene was recovered from this particular black box. A metal box sitting on the truck, which is parked on the front left, actually falls off to the engine casing wall. A car, parked in the front, suddenly bounces off the floor to hit the ceiling. Considering the car had fallen on the ceiling, it is assumed that the ferry must have tilted at least 90 degrees by the time.

After a minute, water stream starts to flow in from the upper twin deck.

The second black box, collected from a vehicle parked in the front center of Deck C, captured a clip with a sharp sound of cargos and goods colliding, and a following scene of nearby freight trucks altogether inclined to the left to hit the left wall. No time setting appeared in the screen, but the video file’s name specified the time when the recording began, 8:48:58 a.m.

The last black box collected from the Deck C was captured by a vehicle parked near the port wall. Sound of cargos and goods colliding is heard clearly. Then, numbers of cars parked in a distance start falling to the left wall sequentially, like domino pieces. This vehicle (recording the clip), too, ends up bumping into the left wall. Soon, a large amount of seawater is burst to gulp up nearby cars. At the moment, the time appeared on the screen was 8:49 a.m.

“The black box videos recovered this time are crucial primary sources, which allow comprehensive analyses of what happened inside the cargo at the moment the ferry started sinking,” Rep. Kim, a member of the former Special Sewol Investigative Commission, said. “It is a splendid achievement for the independent investigative committee.”

“I hope to see the committee and other maritime organizations to collaborate on a close investigation using the videos, so that there is no more unresolved suspicions on the cause and process of Sewol ferry’s sudden tilt.”