Beijing - Rescuers heard trapped survivors yelling for help on Tuesday from inside a capsized cruise ship on China's Yangtze River after it went down overnight in a storm with 458 people aboard, most of them elderly, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Twelve people survived, and at least five people were confirmed dead in the accident late on Monday in Hubei province on a cruise from Nanjing to the south-western city of Chongqing, the broadcaster said.
Search teams heard people calling out from within the partially submerged ship about 12 hours after it went down at about 21:38 on Monday during windy weather, CCTV said. Weather conditions on Tuesday were hindering the rescue.
Footage from the broadcaster showed rescuers in orange life vests climbing on top of the upside down hull, with one of them lying down tapping a hammer and listening for a response, then gesturing downward.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted the captain and chief engineer, who were both rescued, as saying the ship sank quickly after being caught in a cyclone. The Communist Party-run People's Daily said the ship sank within two minutes. CCTV said the two men were under police custody.
CCTV said the four-level ship had been carrying 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency employees and 47 crew members. The broadcaster said most of the passengers were 50 to 80 years of age.
Also read: Boat with more than 450 people sinks in China
The ship sank in the Damazhou waterway section, where the river is 15m deep, and drifted about 3km. The Yangtze is the world's third-longest river and sometimes floods during the summer monsoon season.
Search and rescue
Several rescue ships were searching the waters, and divers had been deployed. The broadcaster said rescue personnel were trying to determine whether they could right the sunken ship.
The channel said seven of the survivors swam to shore and alerted authorities to the sinking.
More than 50 boats and 3 000 people were involved in search efforts.
The Eastern Star measured 76.5m long and 11m wide and was capable of carrying a maximum of 534 people, CCTV reported. It is owned by the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp, which focuses on tourism routes in the popular Three Gorges river canyon region. The company could not be reached for comment.
CCTV reported that 150mm of rain had fallen in the region over the past 24 hours. Local media reported winds reached 130km/h during the accident.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is reported to be traveling to the accident site. Xinhua reported that President Xi Jinping had ordered a work team of the State Council, the country's Cabinet, to rush to the site to guide the rescue work.