Amid fading hopes, hundreds of rescuers on Wednesday raced against time and braved bad weather to locate survivors in the cruise ship capsize in China's mighty Yangtze River as 26 bodies were pulled out with over 400 people feared dead in the catastrophic shipping tragedy.
Over 40 hours after the Eastern Star cruise ship carrying 456 people capsized in Asia's longest river in Jianli in the central Hubei province, the clock was now ticking to find more survivors.
More than 3,000 rescuers and 110 search vessels were deployed in the search, with bad weather continuing to hamper the operations. Helicopters were also dispatched to the scene, state-run CCTV reported.
The four-storey cruise ship sank after being caught in a freak tornado in Jianli on Monday night and following massive rescue efforts, 15 survivors had been found with 26 dead bodies pulled out, the report said.
More than 200 divers were working round the clock, trying to find signs of life within and around the capsized ship.
The rescuers have decided to sling the 76-metre capsized ship using wire ropes and the first wire rope has been put into place, according to Global Times.
“The ship is upside down, so there are lots of moving objects...we use our hands to touch and feel...the weather keeps tangling my rope, meaning I have to cut it,” Diver Zhang Hucheng said.
Meanwhile, many angry relatives of those missing in the capsize clashed with authorities in Shanghai, demanding more information and to be taken to the site of the tragedy on the banks of the 6,300 km-long Yangtze River.
Most passengers were tourists from Shanghai and its neighbouring province of Jiangsu, aged between 3 and 83, with most in their 60s and 70s.
Search teams are also combing a nearby bank of the river, to find anyone who might have swam ashore.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last night called for “all-out efforts” to save lives following a fatal cruise ship accident, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Li also visited a hospital in central China's Hubei province, where several survivors rescued from the capsized passenger ship are receiving treatment.
A small and fast-moving tornado hit the area where the Chinese cruise ship capsized, according to weather officials.
The ship was carrying 405 passengers, five tour guides, and 46 crew members.
The ship, which left the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing last Thursday bound for Chongqing Municipality on the upper reaches of the river, sank “within one or two minutes” of being caught in freak weather in Jianli, according to the ship's captain and chief engineer
Claims that it sank in a minute have come under scrutiny with questions being raised how a vessel of that size could overturn in a jiffy.
Image: A woman is helped as she is pulled out by divers from the sunken ship. Photograph: Reuters