SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Hwang In-yeol and his wife waited seven years to have a child, and then she was born on Oct 29, 1997. After a ferry disaster in April that killed her and 303 others, the couple waited again for nearly seven months to see Ji-hyeon’s body. The vigil ended Wednesday when divers retrieved their only child’s body on her 17th birthday.
“The saddest birthday party on the earth,” read a headline in the Hankyoreh newspaper Thursday alongside a picture showing a sobbing Hwang standing with his wife on Wednesday before a whipped-cream cake with glowing candles on it.
“Please, wait peacefully for me in heaven. Daddy will follow you soon,” the 51-year-old Hwang as quoted as saying.
Divers found Ji-hyeon’s body on Tuesday around a toilet in the sunken ship Sewol, but it took one day to pull it up to the surface because of strong currents and its decaying condition. The results of DNA tests released Thursday confirmed the body belongs to Ji-hyeon.
Her body is the first recovered since July 18, raising the official death toll from the April 16 sinking to 295, mostly high school students who were travelling to a southern island for a school trip. Nine others are still missing.
Hours before the body was brought up, Hwang and his wife Shim Myeong-seop threw a party to celebrate their daughter’s 18th birthday at a gym on the southwestern island of Jindo, where they have been staying since April 16 to be closer to the searches.
Many Asian cultures, including South Korean, count the age of the newborn baby as 1, and by that method Ji-hyeon would have celebrated her 18th birthday on Wednesday. The entire Korean media reported it as such.