China cruise ship disaster: 434 bodies recovered; 8 still missing

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Rescuers work to raise the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing in the Yangtze River on Friday (June 5) in Jingzhou, China.

(CNN) — Their hopes have long faded, their prayers gone unanswered. Still, they wait by the banks of the Yangtze River, lighting candles and calling out the names of their loved ones.

A week ago Monday, the Eastern Star — a passenger ship on a pleasure cruise along a stretch of the Yangtze that winds through central China's Hubei province — went down during a storm.

Four hundred and fifty six people — mostly senior citizens — were on board.

Only 14 survived.

By Monday, search crews had recovered 434 bodies. Eight remain missing.

It's the deadliest boat disaster in China in almost 70 years.

"I wish this was a nightmare," Guan Yuan told Xinhua, China's state-run news agency. "But nothing happens when I wake up."

Guan's parents were aboard the ship, taking their first long vacation since retiring, she said.

"My parents rarely traveled to save money for my education," she told the news agency.

Bereft of the possibility of a happy reunion, family members wait around to take the bodies of their loved ones home.

But so far, forensic teams using DNA to identify the victims have only made 97 matches.

"I know you will not come back, but I really hope I could see you one last time," cried Wu Jianqiang, who lost his wife, Xinhua reported.

Search area expanded

The rescue and recovery operation has involved nearly 150 other ships, 59 machines, 3,400 Chinese troops and 1,700 paramilitary personnel, state news agency Xinhua said.

Officials have expanded the search area to include more than 600 miles downstream and warned ships to be on the look out for floating bodies.

Authorities took the captain and the chief engineer into custody, but have revealed little about what they have said other than that a tornado hit the ship.

A popular cruise

The Yangtze is the third-longest river in the world, stretching 6,300 kilometers (3,915 miles) from its source in the mountains of Tibet all the way to the East China Sea.

The Eastern Star had been making multiple stops on its journey up the river from Nanjing to Chongqing, a city hundreds of kilometers inland. River cruises along the Yangtze are popular among both Chinese and international tourists.

It capsized around 9:30 p.m. Monday during a storm over the section of the river that flows through Hubei's Jianli County, authorities said.

It's unclear why the Eastern Star was the only ship on the busy waterway so badly affected by the storm.

The captain and the chief engineer both said the ship had been hit by a "longjuanfeng," a Chinese word that can be translated as cyclone or tornado, Xinhua reported.

The China Meteorological Center said a tornado less than 1 kilometer in diameter and lasting 15 to 20 minutes occurred, China Daily reported.

Evoking memories

Images of the upended ship evoked memories of the Sewol, the South Korean passenger ferry that sank last year, taking the lives of more than 300 people, most of them high school students.

The captain of that ship was convicted of murder in April and sentenced to life in prison.

In this case, the majority of the 405 passengers on the cruise were between 50 and 80 years old, according to a list published by state media. The youngest was 3.

There were also 46 crew members and five travel agency workers on board, according to state media. All those on board were reported to be Chinese.

Journalist Wayne Chang contributed to this report.

This story was first published on, "China cruise ship disaster: 434 bodies recovered; 8 still missing."