On the night of March 26, 2010, an explosion was heard by crew members on a South Korean Navy corvette which had been patrolling off the country’s west coast near Baengnyeong Island in the West Sea.
Five minutes later, the 1,200-ton Pohang-class patrol ship named the Cheonan was broken in half, and the rear half sunk into the ocean, killing 46 Navy personnel inside.
“I heard a loud bang at 9:22 p.m. that night, with which the ship tilted to the right, and my body was flung up in the air, about 30 centimeters (from the floor),” Choi Won-il, then captain of the Cheonan, said about the moment it happened in multiple interviews including a recent one with the state-run Defense Media Agency.
As he fell down, furniture and other objects in his cabin collapsed on top of him, and he passed out for a minute or two after something hit the back of his head, he said. When he came around, the cabin door was at where the ceiling used to be. Water rushed in and was up to his neck by the time crew members broke the door open with a fire extinguisher, sent down a fire hose for Choi to wrap around his body and pulled him up.
“When I went outside, the ship’s stern had disappeared, and the vessel was broken into two pieces,” he said.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Oh Seong-tak said in a press conference organized by the government with 58 survivors 13 days after the sinking that the sound of the explosion was so loud that he felt pain in his ear, and the lights went out as his body went up in the air.
An official investigation led by South Korea concluded on May 20, 2010, that a North Korean heavyweight torpedo fired by a midget submarine, had detonated a few meters below the hull of the ship, creating a bubble jet that generated a massive shock wave that ripped the ship in two.
According to the Joint Civil-Military Investigation Group consisting of experts from South Korea, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Sweden, it was a North Korean-manufactured CHT-02D torpedo, of which considerable parts were recovered.
North Korea, as it has with past attacks on South Koreans, denied its involvement.
Condemning the deadliest military attack by the North since the 1950-53 Korean War, the South’s Lee Myung-bak administration imposed a set of sanctions on May 24 that year that banned South Korean visits to North Korea; halted all inter-Korean trade and aid projects; prohibited South Koreans’ business expansion in the North and North Korean ships from sailing in South Korean waters.