January 14, 2012

Three dead, 40 still missing after cruise ship crashes in Italy

The Associated Press

PORTO SANTO STEFANO, Italy — The first course had just been served in the Costa Concordia's dining room when the wine glasses, forks and plates of cuttlefish and mushrooms smashed to the ground. At the magic show in the theater, the trash cans tipped over and the theater curtains turned on their side. Then the hallways turned upside down, and passengers crawled on bruised knees through the dark. Others jumped alone into the cold Mediterranean Sea.

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The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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The terrifying, chaotic escape from the luxury liner was straight out of a scene from "Titanic" for many of the 4,000-plus passengers and crew on the cruise ship, which ran aground off the Italian coast late Friday and flipped on its side with a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in its hull. At least three bodies had been recovered and divers searched the underwater belly of the boat for a few dozen more who remained unaccounted for. By late Saturday, the number of missing had dwindled to about 40.

The Friday the 13th grounding of the Concordia was one of the most dramatic cruise ship accidents in recent memory. It immediately raised a host of questions: Why did it hit a reef so close to the Tuscan island of Giglio? Did a power failure cause the crew to lose control? And why did crew members tell passengers they weren't in danger until the boast was listing perilously to the side?

The delay made lifeboat rescue eventually impossible for some of the passengers, some of whom jumped into the sea while others waited to be plucked to safety by helicopters. Some boats had to be cut down with an axe.

"We had to scream at the controllers to release the boats from the side," said Mike van Dijk, from Pretoria, South Africa. "It was a scramble, an absolute scramble."

Van Dijk said the boat he was on — on the upended port side — got stuck along the ship's wall as it came down.

"It was a hell of a sound, the crunching," he said.

Costa Crociera SpA, which is owned by the U.S.-based cruise giant Carnival Corp., defended the actions of its crew and said it was cooperating with the investigation. The captain was detained for questioning by prosecutors, investigating him for suspected manslaughter, abandoning ship before all others, and causing a shipwreck, state TV and Sky TV said. Carnival Corp. issued a statement expressing sympathy that didn't address the allegations of delayed evacuation.

France said two of the victims were Frenchmen; a Peruvian diplomat identified the third victim as Tomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, 42, a crewman from Peru. Some 30 people were injured, at least two seriously.

The ship began its lurch at the beginning of dinner service in the ship's two-story dining room, where passengers described a scene of frantic confusion.

Silverware, plates and glasses crashed down on them from the upper floor balcony, children wailed and darkened hallways upended themselves after the ship began its lurch. Panicked passengers slipped on broken glass as the lights went out while crew members insisted nothing serious was wrong.

"Have you seen 'Titanic'? That's exactly what it was," said Valerie Ananias, 31, a schoolteacher from Los Angeles who was traveling with her sister and parents. They all bore dark red bruises on their knees from the desperate crawl they endured along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells, trying to reach rescue boats.

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Additional Photos

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The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its starboard side as seen from the Giglio harbor. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

click image to enlarge

The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side as after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio. (AP Photo/Enzo Russo)

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