Europe

Italy ferry fire: Survivors' stories

The rescue operation at the Norman Atlantic, 29 Dec Image copyright AFP
Image caption The rescue operation at the Norman Atlantic concluded on Monday

More than 400 people were rescued from the decks of a burning ferry in the Adriatic Sea, in a difficult, operation which saw helicopter crews struggling against gale-force winds, massive waves and thick smoke.

Here are some accounts of what happened from surviving passengers.


Giorgos Stiliaras - 'Full of smoke'

Mr Stiliaras told Greek Mega TV that people were having trouble breathing because of the smoke.

Speaking from the ship's deck on Sunday he said: "We are outside, we are very cold, the ship is full of smoke, the boat is still burning, the floors are boiling.

"The boats that came [to rescue us] are gone, and we are here. They cannot take us. The weather is too bad and they could not lift us."

He added: "There was no proper alert, and I think they did it to avoid creating panic but it was the smell that got us up, all of us, the smell of burning plastic."


Teodora Douli - 'I watched my husband die'

Ms Douli, 56, tried to escape the ship with her husband but both fell into the water.

She told Italy's Ansa news agency that help had come too late for her husband.

"I tried to save him but I couldn't," she said. "I watched my husband die. He was bleeding through his nose, perhaps because he banged his head on the side of the ship."

Ms Douli was rescued from a lifeboat escape chute. A body believed to be that of 62-year-old Gheorgiou Douli was recovered on Sunday.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The body of a man who died trying to leave the ship was found in a lifeboat escape chute

Christos Perlis - 'Our feet were burning'

Greek truck driver, Christos Perlis, described the rescue scene as chaotic.

He said the fire alarm sounded after most of the passengers had already fled outside.

The 32-year-old told the Associated Press news agency: "Our feet were burning."

He added that the situation became more panicked when the first helicopters arrived and that he had tried to help restore order. "Everyone there was trampling on each other to get on to the helicopter.

"First children, then women and then men. But the men, they started hitting us so they could get on first. They didn't take into consideration the women or the children, nothing."

Mr Perlis managed to get off the ship by jumping into a helicopter basket that was carrying a girl.

Image copyright AFP PHOTO/HO/ GUARDIA COSTIERA

Vassiliki Tavrizelou - 'We heard explosions'

Vassiliki Tavrizelou was rescued with her two-year-old daughter.

She told AP that the women and children were told to evacuate the ship first but that the ships could not approach the ferry because of the rain and the wind.

"We were at least four hours on the deck, in the cold and rain," she said.

Before the evacuation, Ms Tavrizelou recalled the ship alarm going off and seeing fire from her cabin.

"Then we heard explosions," she said.


Robert Mane - 'Flames getting bigger'

Robert Mane is an Albanian immigrant living in Italy.

He said: "The crew tried to coordinate the evacuation into the emergency boats but that proved to be impossible.

"At that stage people were just throwing themselves into the boats. It took me 25 minutes to get into one. Then I remember - there was me and 49 other people in that boat, sailing away from the ferry.

"We sailed away but even more than 1,000m away I could still see the flames getting bigger."


Nick Channing-Williams - 'Panic hit'

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nick Channing-Williams was on the ferry with his fiancee Regina Theoffili

Nick Channing-Williams said he was part of a group of crew members and passengers who had tried to link the ship to a tug boat.

"Basically the panic hit when the floor of the lifeboat deck caught fire and people in the queue started to panic and people piled in," he told the BBC.

"There were lifeboats dropping into the sea and people throwing themselves into them."

The 37-year-old said the group was eventually airlifted out by helicopter.

His Greek fiancee, Regina Theoffili, was airlifted from the ship before him and the two were reunited in an Italian hospital.


Barbara Eckenstein - 'We had to leave everything'

Barbara Eckenstein, a Swiss woman living on the island of Crete, described how she became aware of the unfolding situation.

"I was sleeping on the sofa when somebody pushed me, asking me to stand up. At that moment, the waiting area of the ship was already so full of smoke that you could barely walk around the chairs", she told Swiss television.

"We had to leave everything, we could only take what we had on us," she said.

She added that the ferry was caught in a storm that lasted almost an entire day.

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