Cold, dark, scary ordeal for divers recovering the dead

By Michael Day

With a scarcely credible number and variety of military and emergency personnel flooding the little outcrop of Giglio, one tiny but vital component of the rescue effort has distinguished itself by carrying out the most dangerous and, so far, the grimmest task of all.

Walk past the local police, national police, carabinieri police, finance police, strutting naval officers, coastguard officials and firemen, and at a small garage by the end of the little bay there are the thick rubber suits of the divers whose job is to take the survivors - or now, more likely the dead - from the stricken Costa Concordia.

Danilo Del Carro, 42, marshal of the coastguard divers division, is the softly spoken man who found five bodies on board the liner and helped pull them out. He spoke of the painstaking search he led through the bowels of the capsized ship and the difficulties he and his team faced.

"It's hard to explain how disorientating it is aboard something like the Costa Concordia," he said.

"The vessel's tilted at nearly 90 degrees. Things are at the wrong angle; it's dark, and there are bits of furniture, chairs, curtains and carpet and stuff moving around, and you never know what you're going to bump into or what's around the next corner. We have strong torches, but you still have to feel your way around."

Operating in pairs, he and his 12-strong team worked their way through the ship's decks with all the divers connected to the surface by a cable, which they call the cord of Ariadne, after the cord the mythological figure gave to Theseus to help himto escape from the maze of the Minotaur.

"It's cold, too. The water was 12C, and after a while you really feel that, even in these diving suits."

Shifts in the cold water were limited to 25 minutes. But yesterday Del Carro said he spent a total of one and a half hours at the wreck. And with a vessel of such size - nearly 300m long- there is still a large area to search.

"That ship is huge. But many of the actual spaces are very confined - the cabins and the stairwells. And all the time you're aware that the ship might move any time; you don't want to be trapped in there."

Yesterday morning the diving was called off after sensors showed that the ship had moved slightly but ominously on the rocky ledge just metres from Giglio's tiny port.

"I wouldn't say that I was scared in there yesterday. But I'm always aware that it's a dangerous place to be."

Del Carro was successful during his grim mission to find the bodies of those presumed dead on board the liner. He located five corpses near one of the main restaurants, and helped pull them from the water.

He said: "This isn't the first time I've done this. But dragging a dead person from the water is something you can never really get used to."

One of his diver colleagues, Rodolfo Raiteri, said he, too, had been affected by finding the dead tourists.

"When you have dead people in front of you it's always shocking. You couldn't see a thing in that murky water and then we saw them: one, two, three. At the end we counted all five, flung there like puppets, all with orange lifejackets. Straight away you knew they were passengers."

Yesterday the divers were still waiting to see if they would be called on to re-enter the submerged decks of the wreck to hunt for the remaining passengers.

So far, five holes have been blown into the liner's side to allow divers to explore the flooded areas more easily - and to escape more quickly if things go wrong.

"Things aren't looking good," said Del Carro. "But there may be a few air pockets in there, and while there's the slightest chance of finding them alive we'll keep working."

- NZ Herald

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