Aboard the Costa Concordia: One Family’s Nightmare

Our family vacation aboard the Costa Concordia went terribly wrong. Here’s what it felt like to almost go down with the ship.

By Dean Ananias, Georgia Gonos Ananias, Valerie Joy Ananias, and Cynthia Kristin Ananias
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013

Costa Concordia Chart

GEORGIA: I knew we had three life jackets downstairs in our cabin. Could we risk going farther down into the ship when we didn’t know if we were taking on water? We decided to try. We didn’t want to split up, especially since the lights were out and the girls’ cabin was several decks away, but at least if we could get to the stateroom that Dean and I shared, three of us would have jackets and maybe we’d find another. So we got down on our hands and knees and crawled down two decks with only the emergency floor lighting to guide us.

Inside, the room was pitch-black. Somehow I managed to feel my way to the closet, jump, and grab all three jackets. Thank God I remembered where I had put them!

Just as I came out into the hallway, I saw a room steward. I knew he had master keys, so I asked him to open another cabin so we could get a fourth life jacket. Shockingly, he told us he “wasn’t allowed” to do that. It felt like that scene in Titanic where the people in steerage are begging the steward to unlock the gate so they can get on the lifeboats, but he says he “isn’t allowed.”

I knew we wouldn’t be permitted to board a lifeboat without life jackets, because that is standard protocol, and this crew wasn’t going to do anything extra to help us. And what if we found ourselves needing to jump overboard? We had no idea how close to land we were. In fact, because of the side of the ship we were on, it looked to us like we were in the middle of the ocean.

We were making our way back up to the boat deck, when there it was: a gray life jacket right in front of me. Not a single person was nearby, and I know it hadn’t been there when we’d come down a few minutes earlier. I realize that not everyone believes in miracles, but in that instant, I did.

DEAN: Once we all had life jackets, our family returned to the boat deck. The crew weren’t helping, and I started to worry that even if we were finally put on lifeboats, they wouldn’t know how to run them. Most of them were waiters and kitchen staff.

We kept trying to convince them that we needed to evacuate before the ship tilted too much, but the captain still had not given the signal. If they had started loading the lifeboats as soon as people came up on deck, I have no doubt everyone would have gotten off safely.

Finally we heard the signal. What we didn’t know was that the captain got off the ship soon after he gave that evacuation order.

As the gates to the lifeboats opened, passengers made a mad dash, shoving others aside and jumping in. We got on a boat and took our seats, relieved that we were safe. But the nightmare was just beginning.

Next: “Another passenger yelled that there was no way out” »

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