PORTO SANTO STEFANO, Italy (AP) — 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.
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 were recovered. But late Saturday, nearly 24 hours after the capsizing, rescuers had reason to celebrate: a South Korean couple on their honeymoon responded in the door-to-door search of cabins and were brought to safety in good condition, officials said.
Close to 40 others remained unaccounted for.
The Philippine Consulates in Italy have confirmed to the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines the rescue of around 300 Filipinos on board, two (2) of them were seriously injured. The names of the Filipinos has still to be identified, as the accounting of the victims still continues in hospitals, hotels, schools and parks where the rescued passengers are temporarily sheltered.
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? Did the captain — under investigation on manslaughter allegations — steer it in the wrong direction on purpose? And why did crew members tell passengers they weren’t in danger until the boat 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.
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. Carnival Corp. issued a statement expressing sympathy that didn’t address the allegations of delayed evacuation.
The captain, Francesco Schettino, 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. Prosecutor Francesco Verusio was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying Schettino deliberately chose a sea route that was too close to shore.
France said two of the victims were Frenchmen; a Peruvian diplomat identified the third victim as Tomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza, 49, a crewman from Peru. Some 30 people were injured, at least two seriously.
Late Saturday, firefighters who had been searching the Costa Concordia for dozens who remained missing heard distinct shouts, “one in a male voice, other in a female voice” coming from the cruiser liner, Coast guard officer Marcello Fertitta said.
The trapped survivors were found more than 24 hours after the ship ran aground and lurched violently.
Passengers described a scene of frantic confusion. Silverware, plates and glasses crashed down from the dining room’s upper floor balcony, children wailed and darkened hallways upended themselves. Panicked passengers slipped on broken glass as the lights went out while crew members insisted nothing serious was wrong.
Costa Cruises said about 1,000 Italian passengers were onboard, as well as more than 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1,000 crew members. The State Department said about 126 U.S. citizens were onboard.
Coast guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo said the exact circumstances of the accident were still unclear, but that the first alarm aboard went off about 10:30 p.m., about three hours after the Concordia had begun its voyage from the port of Civitavecchia to Savona, in northwestern Italy. No SOS was sent, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The vessel “hit an obstacle,” that tore a 50-meter (160 feet) gash in the side of the ship and started taking on water, Paolillo said. It wasn’t clear if the obstacle was a jagged, rocky reef or something else, he said.
The captain, Paolillo said, then tried to steer his ship toward shallow waters, near Giglio’s small port, to make evacuation by lifeboat easier.
Five helicopters from the coast guard, navy and air force took turns airlifting survivors still aboard and ferrying them to safety.
Costa Cruises said the Costa Concordia was sailing on a weeklong cruise across the Mediterranean Sea that began Jan. 7 in Savona with stops at Civitavecchia, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.
The Concordia had a previous accident in Italian waters, ANSA reported. In 2008, when strong winds buffeted Palermo, the cruise ship banged against the Sicilian port’s dock, and suffered damage but no one was injured, ANSA said.
By FRANCES D’EMILIO and NICOLE WINFIELD | Associated Press | Angono Dream News ONLINE | Manda Icasiano