Missing family's car discovered underwater in Wando

Police search for a missing family of three, including 10-year-old Cho Yoo-na, on the southwestern island of Wando, Monday. Yonhap

By Lee Hyo-jin

A vehicle owned by a family of three that went missing on Wando Island off the southwestern coast of Korea was discovered in the ocean on Tuesday around 80 meters from the coast. But police were unable to look inside the vehicle due to low visibility.

A joint search by Gwangju Metropolitan Police Agency and Wando Coast Guard found a silver Audi sedan submerged 10 meters underwater off Songgok Port on the island at about 5:10 p.m. Divers found that the license plate number of the submerged vehicle matched that of the missing family's car.

Less than two hours before the discovery, the authorities found a front grill of an Audi A6, the model owned by the missing family, in waters near the port. The finding led the search crew to believe that the car may be nearby.

The divers found the car capsized underwater with its trunk open and four doors closed. They were unable to discern whether there were bodies inside the car because the windows were heavily tinted. The police said they presume the missing family could be in the car.

The search crew plans to bring the car out of the water using a barge on Wednesday morning. They said they left the car doors shut underwater because anything inside might get lost if they opened them

The authorities had launched a large-scale search around the island off the coast of South Jeolla Province for the family from Gwangju, who have been missing for nearly a month, after they were last seen at around 11 p.m., May 30 leaving a guesthouse they had rented. Police have been looking for a 10-year-old girl, Cho Yoo-na, and her parents who are in their 30s.

This surveillance footage shows the missing family leaving a guesthouse at around 11 p.m., May 30, with the mother carrying her child on her back. Screenshot from YTN

As of Tuesday, the search entered its seventh day, with around 200 police officers taking part using helicopters and drones, but they were unable to find any meaningful clues. The mysterious disappearance of the family has been fanning speculation among the public.

On May 17, Cho's parents reported to her school that they were going on a one-month trip to Jeju Island from May 19 to June 15.

But Cho was still absent from school after the reported period and her family was not reachable by phone, which prompted school officials to visit their home. Seeing that the mailbox was filled with unopened mail and no one was home, they filed a missing persons report with the police on June 22.

The law enforcement authorities soon found that Cho's family had not arrived on Jeju.

Instead, they left for Wando Island in their Audi sedan on May 23, and stayed at the guesthouse which they had reserved for six days from May 24 to 31. During their stay, the family mostly remained in the room, the guesthouse owner told police.

The family was last seen leaving the guesthouse around 11 p.m., May 30, a day before they were scheduled to check out. Surveillance camera footage showed Cho's mother carrying the child on her back, while her father followed behind holding a plastic bag in his left hand. The three were then seen leaving in their car.

The police said the cellphones of Cho and her mother were switched off near the guesthouse at around 12:40 a.m. and 1:09 a.m., respectively. Her father's phone turned off at around 4:15 a.m. near Songgok Port, some four kilometers from the guesthouse.

The authorities said they were continuing with the search with all possibilities open, such as involvement in crime, accident or suicide.

Some have linked their disappearance to financial difficulties they had been experiencing. Cho's father had reportedly been suffering hardships after closing down his computer-related business in July 2021. The family's credit card debts were over 100 million won ($80,000), according to police.

Lee Hyo-jin lhj@koreatimes.co.kr

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