The U.S. Navy has deployed multiple helicopters and the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship, to assist in the search for survivors of a sunken South Korean ferry. CNN reported that at least 179 passengers have been rescued, but authorities estimate that 287 people are trapped inside the ship. While it is uncertain whether any of the missing individuals are still alive, authorities are operating under the belief that there are survivors that have yet to be found.

Navy joins an already extensive search effort
The ferry began to sink April 16 near Jindo, an island off the southwestern coast of South Korea. More than 450 people, many of whom were elementary school students, were on the ship as it traveled from Incheon, South Korea toward Jeju Island. Already, approximately 170 ships and 512 divers are involved with the search effort. 

According to Stars and Stripes, Lt. Arlo Abrahamson, spokesman for the commander of Naval Forces Korea, said two MH-60 helicopters are searching an area 6 to 17 miles from the site of the incident. This endeavor was requested by the South Korean commander leading the search effort. Initially, two Navy helicopters carrying lifeboats were sent to the disaster site but were later recalled.

The Bonhomme Richard's call to action
Just prior to joining the search effort, the Bonhomme Richard had been performing routine operations in a region west of the Korean peninsula. The ship's commanding officer Capt. Joey Tynch wrote that his team received a call for assistance around noon on Wednesday. The Bonhomme Richard promptly redirected its course and headed toward the disaster site at full speed. 

"When we were alerted to the accident, we immediately diverted to the scene to render assistance," said Capt. Heidi C. Agle, according to a Navy news release. "However, the efficiency of the Korean response eclipsed the immediate need for our assets. We are standing by to provide support as requested by the on-scene commander."

Stars and Stripes noted that the search could become more difficult due to high currents and inclement weather conditions. Nonetheless, the Bonhomme Richard appears to be well-prepared to assist the rescue effort. About 3,000 sailors and Marines are aboard the ship, and the vessel is equipped with MV-22 Osprey aircraft, MH-60 helicopters and small boats designed to conduct search operations.