Costa Concordia Disaster

01.15.12

Italy Searches for Costa Concordia Survivors

Two days after the shipwreck, five are confirmed dead and 17 are unaccounted for—reportedly including two Americans. From Tuscany, tales of chaos, despair, and a dramatic rescue.

Sunday was a bittersweet day for rescue workers searching for missing passengers from the Costa Concordia  shipwreck that sent more than 4,000 cruise passengers into a hellish panic on Friday the 13th. Italy’s elite alpine rescue workers scaled the sides of the vessel looking in cabin windows for survivors as experienced divers from the Italian Coast Guard searched the sunken hull of the massive ship below.  Another set of rescue workers searching the main cabin areas with flashlights and listening devices scoured the ship for any sign of life.

The ship had left the port of Civitivecchia just hours before it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan tourist island of Giglio about 18 miles from the Italian mainland.  Three bodies were recovered from the sea Friday night and nearly 70 passengers were unaccounted for at nightfall on Saturday, though many of those names were crossed off the missing list by Sunday morning as passengers made contact with authorities.

Early Sunday morning, rescuers celebrated the seemingly miraculous rescue of a honeymooning couple from South Korea who were discovered trapped inside their cabin.  Later in the morning, a helicopter team pulled the ship’s Italian purser, who had collapsed under the effects of hypothermia in the ship’s main dining area, to safety in a dramatic rescue.  But the day ended on a sad note when rescuers discovered the bodies of two elderly men—one Italian and one Spanish —who were found dead, lifejackets still strapped on.  They were presumed to have been waiting for wheelchair help near the muster station designated for the disabled, according to Italian Coast Guard members who conducted the recovery efforts.

More than 48 hours after the fatal maritime disaster, there are surprisingly only five confirmed deaths despite reports of a horrifying accident and chaotic evacuation. But on Sunday night, 11 passengers and six crew members still remained missing. The Coast Guard told the Italian ANSA news agency that among the missing are one Peruvian, two Italians, four French, and two Americans.  Neither the Costa Concordia cruise line nor the U.S. Embassy in Rome were available for comment or confirmation on Sunday night. Two Sicilian women were in contact with their relatives by phone shortly after the shipwreck, but neither has been heard from since.  Reports on Saturday that an Italian man had been in cellphone contact with his cousin, who was trapped in one of the inner cabins, quickly turned to disappointment when the ship passenger’s cellphone battery died and contact was lost.

Two elderly men were found dead, lifejackets still strapped on.

Authorities at the site of the wreck told The Daily Beast that their goal now is to secure the ship before anticipated stormy seas on Wednesday.  The massive vessel is still on its side on a bed of rocks in shallow water about 500 feet from the coastline.  Dive crews are particularly vulnerable because the 115,000-ton vessel is not yet secured and could quickly shift in stormy seas.  Heavy equipment to secure the ship is expected by the end of the week.