World

Cruise ship victims' details begin to emerge

A 38-year-old violinist from Hungary has been identified as the first confirmed death in the grounding of the Costa Concordia cruise ship on a reef off the Italian coast.

21 people still missing as search efforts put on hold after deadly shipwreck

An Italian dad and his five-year-old daughter. A retired American couple treating themselves after putting four children through college. A Hungarian musician who helped crying children into life-jackets, then disappeared while trying to retrieve his beloved violin from his cabin.

As details emerged Wednesday about the missing and the dead in the grounding of the Costa Concordia, the captain was quoted as saying he tripped and fell from the listing vessel and never intended to abandon his passengers.

The search for the 21 people still unaccounted for in the disaster ground to a halt after the cruise liner shifted again on its rocky perch off the Tuscan island of Giglio, making it too dangerous for divers to continue. Rough seas were forecast for the next few days.

The bad weather also postponed the start of the weekslong operation to extract the 1.8 million litres of fuel on board the vessel, as Italy's environment minister warned Parliament of the ecological implications if the ship sinks.

The $450 million Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef and capsized Friday after the captain made an unauthorized diversion from his programmed route and strayed into the perilous waters.

Costa Concordia toll

Dead: 

Sandor Feher, Hungary, 38, crew

5 bodies recovered, whose names have not been released

5 bodies, who have yet to be identified

Unaccounted for: (including 5 dead and 21 missing)

Italy: 6 (5 passengers and 1 crew)

Germany: 12 passengers

France: 4 passengers

U.S.: 2 passengers

India: 1 crew

Peru: 1 crew

Capt. Francesco Schettino, who was jailed after he left the ship before everyone was safely evacuated, was placed under house arrest Tuesday, facing possible charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship.

The ship's operator, Crociere Costa SpA, has accused Schettino of causing the wreck by making the unapproved detour, and the captain has acknowledged carrying out what he called a "tourist navigation" that brought the ship closer to Giglio. Costa has said such a navigational "fly by" was done last Aug. 9-10, after being approved by the company and Giglio port authorities.

However, Lloyd's List Intelligence, a leading maritime publication, said Wednesday its tracking of the ship's August route showed it actually took the Concordia slightly closer to Giglio than the course that caused Friday's disaster.

"This is not a black-and-white case," Richard Meade, editor of Lloyd's List, said in a statement.

"Our data suggests that both routes took the vessel within 200 metres of the impact point and that the authorized route was actually closer to shore."

New audio of Schettino's communications with the coast guard during the crisis emerged Wednesday, with the captain claiming he ended up in a life-raft after he tripped and fell into the water.

Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, is taken into custody in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy, on Saturday. Schettino, now under house arrest in his hometown of Meta di Sorrento, is accused of abandoning the grounded cruise ship after it hit a reef. (Giacomo Aprili/Associated Press)

"I did not abandon a ship with 100 people on board, the ship suddenly listed and we were thrown into the water," Schettino said, according to a transcript published Wednesday in the Corriere della Sera paper.

Other media reported that Schettino told an Italian judge during a hearing that he tripped and fell into a life-raft.

Initial audio of Schettino's conversations made headlines on Tuesday, showing an increasingly exasperated coast guard officer ordering Schettino back on board to direct the evacuation, and the captain resisting, saying it was too dark and the ship was tipping.

The officer's order, "Get back on board, [expletive!]" has entered the Italian lexicon, becoming a Twitter hashtag and adorning T-shirts.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead so far, and 21 are missing. Italian officials have only released 27 names so far, including two Americans, 12 Germans, six Italians, four French, and one person each from Hungary, India and Peru.

The Hungarian victim was identified Wednesday as 38-year-old Sandor Feher, who had been working as an entertainer on the stricken cruise ship. His body was found inside the wreck and identified by his mother, who had travelled to the Italian city of Grosseto, according to Hungary's foreign ministry.

The Costa Concordia rests on its starboard side just off the tiny Tuscan island of Isola del Giglio, Italy. Satellites are being used to monitor the area while authorities prepare to remove the fuel from inside the vessel. (DigitalGlobe/Associated Press)

Jozsef Balog, a pianist who worked with Feher on the ship, told the Blikk newspaper that Feher was wearing a life-jacket when he decided to return to his cabin to retrieve his violin. Feher was last seen on deck en route to the area where he was supposed to board a lifeboat.

According to Balog, Feher helped put life-jackets on several crying children before returning to his cabin.

Others among the missing include five-year-old Dayana Arlotti and her father, William Arlotti, who were on the cruise with the father's girlfriend. The girl's parents separated three years ago.

The girl's mother, Susy Albertini, said she has been desperately calling police, port officials and the cruise company for days for news of her daughter and estranged husband.

"I last heard from her on Thursday," when she waved goodbye at school, Albertini, 28, told the La Voce di Romagna newspaper.

"The absurd thing is that no one can tell me anything, and what little I know is from the newspapers," she said. "Sometimes they ask absurd questions, like if my daughter knows how to swim. Do they understand she is five years old? What kind of question is that?"

William Arlotti, 36, had gone on the cruise with his girlfriend, Michela Marconcelli, who survived. She reported seeing Dayana, who was wearing a lifejacket, slide into the water when the boat shifted, but said someone helped retrieve her, the newspaper reported.

Marconcelli said she was pushed forward onto the life-raft, and lost track of her companion and his daughter.

Others missing include retirees Jerry and Barbara Heil of White Bear Lake, Minn.

Sarah Heil, their daughter, told WBBM radio in Chicago that her parents had been looking forward to the 16-day cruise after raising four kids and sending them all off to college.

"They never had any money," she said. "So when they retired, they went travelling. And this was to be a big deal — a 16-day trip. They were really excited about it."

The Heil children said in a blog post Wednesday that their parents were not among the passengers whose bodies were recently recovered, and they were praying that weather conditions would improve so authorities could resume search operations.