‘We Had to Improvise’: Costa Concordia Survivors Speak Out

From the courageous to the cowardly, survivors of the Italian cruise ship disaster are telling their stories.

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The stricken cruise liner Costa Concordia on January 17, 2012 in Giglio Porto, Italy. More than 4,000 people were on board when the ship hit rocks last Friday.

Some on the Concordia held their own in terms of heroics. One British teenager made himself into a human ladder to rescue more than a dozen passengers. Nineteen-year-old James Thomas bridged the gap between two ship levels with his 6’3” frame in order to help people reach the lifeboats. “People couldn’t get down, the drop was too far, so I lowered myself into position,” he told the Mirror. “I grabbed the lifeboat with one arm and the upper deck rail with the other and let people climb on my shoulder and down my body.”

Gallantry wasn’t always the order of the day, however. Sandra Rogers, a 62-year-old British widow who was sailing with her daughter and grandchildren told the Daily Mail that, “There was no ‘women and children first’ policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting.”

(MORE: Before Costa Concordia: Ship Disasters in History)

Once in the lifeboats, most were not eager to relinquish their seats. Frenchwoman Beatrice Miceaud, 58, recounted how she and her 61-year-old husband spent over an hour in the freezing water. “I was only wearing [an] evening dress. We hung on to the edge of a life raft and kept lifting our heads to shout to ask to be taken on board but the people in the raft didn’t hear us or didn’t want to hear us. We were exhausted.”

The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, took center stage as the villain of the story, however, allegedly abandoning his ship while hundreds remained on board. He told investigators on Tuesday, “I tripped and I ended up in one of the [life]boats. That’s how I found myself there.” In a damning recording of a phone conversation on the night of the accident, a coastguard orders Schettino to reboard the ship. Schettino complains that “it is dark and we can’t see anything,” to which the coastguard captain replied, “And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home?”

MORE: ‘Go On Board!’ Transcript Shows Cruise Captain Resisted Returning to Ship

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