A Russian couple on board the sunken ship Costa Concordia has made it through the chaotic and terrifying evacuation, lost each other in the commotion and finally been reunited in Rome, 150 kilometers away from the disaster.
The Italian cruise liner ran aground off an island, Isola del Giglio. At least three people – two French passengers and a crewmember from Peru – were killed and 67 were injured. About 40 passengers are still missing. 3,200 passengers from 62 countries, including 108 Russian citizens, were on board the vessel.
Aleksandr Khoroshikh, 65, and his wife Angela were in a cabin when the ship hit the reef.
"The bed shook. After two minutes the light went out. I could not open the safe where we kept the money, I lost my phone – it flew off somewhere. The staff were just sitting there silent and wouldn’t let me out [of the cabin]. They told us ‘Everything’s OK, no problem.’ But the ship had tilted seriously," he recalls the first minutes of the accident.
Later Aleksandr made his way to the deck. By that time the liner, the right side of which began submerging, had considerably listed, and in order to move to the left side of the ship, above sea level, passengers actually had to climb.
"I rushed to help my wife. Myself, I’m a climber, but she could not climb. I grabbed a rope and it was covered in oil. I could not hold on any longer… and then I fell. The jacket got knocked of off me. I fell and hit the water really hard. It was a high fall, like from a six-story building,” says Aleksandr.
On impact Aleksandr briefly lost consciousness, but quickly recovered and started swimming for the shore. He was saved by a local fisherman, who dragged him on to his boat and took him to the pier. There Aleksandr was attended by doctors.
"They took me into the ambulance. I tried to call my wife, but could not reach her. Breathing was difficult, and my ribs still hurt when I breathe. Doctors wanted to take me to the hospital, but I refused, I wanted to find Angela. I was searching for her, thought she had drowned. At the same time she was looking for me,” he said.
Angela remained with a fairly large group of passengers that had been waiting for help.
"We were among the last to have been evacuated from the vessel. For a long time we stood on the bow. Helicopters were circling around, but they did not come down for the passengers. Then the rescuers came down, counted us and started to lift people on to the helicopter. But they only took two or three, but there were many more people,” says Angela.
In the end, she said, people went to the stern from which rope ladders had been lowered with rescue boats waiting below. Angela went down one of the ladders and was transported to safety.
However, the fate of her husband, Aleksandr, remained unknown to her for the rest of that day. They met only in Rome, 150 kilometers from the wreck, in a hotel to which Russians from the sunken liner were taken.
Russian tourists have also been housed in hotels at the airports of Milan, Rome and Nice.
This was not the only miraculous escape from the Costa Concordia. Earlier, emergency workers managed to rescue a couple who had been trapped inside the capsized cruise ship. The South Korean couple were on their honeymoon.
The rescue operation is still underway. At least three people have been confirmed dead and dozens are still missing following the incident. Arturo Cerulli, mayor of Porto Santo Stefano, which is just one hour away across the sea from Giglio, says members of the liner's own crew might still be trapped in the belly of the boat.
Meanwhile, Italian media reported Saturday that the captain of the cruise liner has been detained while being investigated on allegations of manslaughter and abandoning his ship. Experts have questioned how 52-year-old Francesco Schettino, with 11 years working for the ship's owner, could pass so close to the island of Giglio given Italy's well-mapped sea lanes.