Birmingham & Black Country

Costa Concordia dancer 'tried to save passengers' lives'

A crew member on an Italian cruise liner that ran aground close to a Tuscan island has described his efforts to save passengers on the listing ship.

James Thomas from Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham was working as a dancer on the Costa Concordia when it crashed into rocks.

The 19-year-old was chatting to his girlfriend online when he was flung off his bed by the force of the impact.

"We had a blackout and several announcements that it was a technical fault and everything would be fine, and then we were told it was just a leak and everything would be sorted, and finally we were given the signal for abandon ship," he said.

"For people who worked on the ship, quite a lot of us knew instantly that this wasn't just a technical fault.

"Quite a lot of us knew we had hit ground as soon as we felt the rumble of us pulling against rock."

'Fight for life'

Image caption The ship listed so much it became impossible to evacuate using normal procedures, Mr Thomas said

Mr Thomas said crew members assembled at emergency points as per their training but the ship's extreme tilt made it virtually impossible to follow the normal evacuation procedures.

"Once it became too much of a tilt to evacuate the ship that's when it went into chaos," he said.

"That's when the port side had to go starboard side and that's when it became a fight for your life basically."

'A sheer drop'

"I had to go through the centre of the ship through the atrium which is a room the size of the average town hall - a massive room, six stories high, and all you can see all over the floor is glass.

"At this point when I was going through the ship it was like a water slide, you slid down and thankfully the sofas and the chairs were stuck to the floor."

Using the furniture to haul himself up, he said he made his way through the atrium towards the life rafts.

"At this point I was assisting 12 to 14 passengers down through the atrium and several of my colleagues too," he said.

Image caption Some of the passengers described hearing a horrendous noise as the ship struck rocks

"We went through this hall and managed to get through to the other side which was a sheer drop into the water.

"I managed to assist a couple of passengers down deck three into a life boat, at this point we were knee deep in water.

Friends on board

"As I turned round to go back to assist more people a man grabbed me by the arm and said , 'no, come, come.'

"As I stepped away from the boat and went to leave he grabbed me by the back of the shirt and pulled me in."

Mr Thomas said he felt compelled to help others because he knew his friends were still on board.

"I knew that I wasn't going to see them again and I had to do something about it, it sounds stupid but luckily a passenger took care of me."

A Chinese man he had spoken to earlier in the week told him that he had to look after his own safety, he said.

"He said 'You've done all you can, come, come, come.'"

The Costa Concordia was Mr Thomas' first job as a professional dancer but the accident has not put him off working on cruise ships again.

"This makes other contracts safer because people will be more aware and more vigilant, because people are going to make sure this never happens again," he said.

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