2 Bodies Raise Death Toll to 5 in Sinking of Cruise Ship, Costa Concordia

Two bodies found by scuba divers Sunday follow overnight rescues.

ByABC News
January 14, 2012, 11:55 AM

ROME, Jan. 15, 2012— -- The bodies of two passengers found wearing life jackets aboard the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship today have been identified, officials said. Both passengers were elderly men -- one Italian, the other Spanish.

The bodies were found earlier today near a gathering point in the submerged part of the luxury liner, bringing the death toll in the disaster to five people.

The Costa Concordia was carrying 4,234 passengers and crew when it hit the rocks Friday evening near Giglio, a small island off the coast of Tuscany. Investigators say the ship was an "incredibly close" 150 meters (roughly 500 feet) from the shore.

"While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences," Costa Cruises said in a statement. "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and in handling the emergency the captain appears not to have followed standard Costa procedures."

Experts are still analyzing the ship's black box, which has already revealed a one-hour lag between the time of the impact on the rocks at 9:45 p.m. local time Friday and the ship's alarm call to the coast guard at about 10:43 p.m. Investigators suspect Schettino tried to maneuver the ship before alerting coast guard, the Italian news outlet Ansa reported.

Schettino is in custody, facing possible charges of manslaughter and abandoning his ship. Schettino reportedly left the stricken vessel at approximately 12:30 a.m., while many passengers didn't get safely off the ship until 6 a.m., Ansa reported.

Before the latest bodies were found today, 17 people remained unaccounted for -- 11 passengers and six crew members, Tuscany's regional president, Enrico Rossi, told reporters. The number was reduced from an earlier estimate of 40 unaccounted for.

The U.S. embassy in Rome estimates 120 Americans were on board the ship, of which 118 have been accounted for.

The ship is currently lying at a 90 degree angle on a raised ledge in the sea floor. But experts say bad weather and rough seas could cause the ship to slide deeper, complicating further search and rescue efforts. Three units of 16 divers are working in shifts to search the badly damaged vessel. Port authorities have told Costa Cruises they want the ship made safe and removed to ward off an ecological disaster.

"Our immediate priority is to account for all passengers and crew, and to secure the vessel to ensure that there are no environmental impacts," Costa Cruises said in a statement. "We have engaged the services of a top specialized salvage company to develop an action plan and help establish a protection perimeter around the ship."

The incident began with a loud bang followed by a blackout just as passengers were having dinner. Minutes later, an announcement from the crew said it was merely an electrical problem. But with the ship tilting, many passengers ignored their orders and scrambled to the deck.

Vacationers reported the crew did not want to lower the lifeboats. Many reported forcing their way on against orders. Some were lowered, but not everyone got on.

By 11 p.m., the ship was tilting too much to its side and many lifeboats couldn't be lowered. Many of the ship's occupants jumped in to the icy waters to make a swim for it, and at least 50 people had to be airlifted by helicopter.