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Ferry disaster: Despite diver's death, grim task of retrieving bodies continues

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By Ed Payne and Stella Kim

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- The grim task of retrieving body after body from the sunken South Korean ferry was dealt a painful blow Tuesday when an experienced diver lost consciousness and died.

Despite the loss of their colleague, the nearly 130 divers continued combing the ship.

They have yet to recover the bodies of 35 people still unaccounted for. The death toll in the ferry disaster now stands at 267, excluding the death of the diver.

The diver was identified as Lee. His full name was not provided.

Five minutes into his dive, he apparently had problems with his oxygen supply.

"By the time his colleagues went to save him, Lee was unconscious and unable to breathe by himself," government spokesman Koh Myung-suk said.

Lee had been diving for 30 years, officials said.

The ferry sank April 16 en route from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju, off the nation's southwestern coast.

Since the first day when many escaped the sinking ship, no one has been found alive. Most of those on board were high school students on a field trip.

Over the weekend, South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited the port where the rescue operation is based to console families and encourage divers.

Corralling the debris has been difficult for search teams.

Mattresses and clothing from the ship have been found up to 9 miles (15 km) away from the accident site, said Park Seung-ki, a spokesman for the rescue operation.

Large stow and trawler nets will be set up around the sunken ship to catch items that may float away, he said. At the same time, some three dozen ships will be clearing an oil spill from the ferry, which is threatening the livelihood of the local fishermen.

CNN's Stella Kim reported from Seoul; Ed Payne wrote from Atlanta

The-CNN-Wire

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