MA family on board Italian cruise ship just prior to its sinking
Maddie Binning, Talon staff writer
After a week-long cruise around the Mediterranean, Minnehaha senior Paul Yaeger arrived at a port on the coast of Italy with his brother, sister and parents the morning of Jan. 13. They spent the rest of the day in Rome and early the next morning, they boarded a bus to the airport.
While on the bus, they heard a radio news report which mentioned their ship, the Costa Concordia, but it was in Italian.
Since Dan (‘07), Paul’s older brother, had gotten sick on the boat, the family assumed that food poisoning had broken out among the passengers. When they reached the airport, they searched online to find out how many people had gotten sick, but instead they saw a picture of the ship, which carried over 4,200 people, on its side.
The Costa Concordia, 952 feet long and 114,500 tons, sank partially on the night of Jan. 13 after the ship hit a reef off the coast of the Italian island of Giglio. The wreck left 70 people injured and 32 dead or missing, including Barbara and Gerald Heil of White Bear Lake.
“We did not meet nor know the Heils however, I find it bitter sweet and heart breaking that they died together,” said Nancy Ann, Paul’s mother and Minnehaha’s Purchasing and Operations Manager. “Because they lived within five miles of us their tragedy reminds us again how thankful we are that we missed being on the ship by hours.”
The captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest until his pretrial hearing on March 20 for charges of manslaughter, failure to offer assistance and abandonment of ship.
“I never really thought a cruise ship could sink,” said Dan. “In fact, I was making jokes the whole time, like ‘Oh they should be playing the Titanic [theme], it’d be funny.’ There was no way that I thought a cruise ship of that size could sink.”
The Yaeger family was shocked to see that the ship had gone down, especially after meeting the captain. Paul, Dan and their father, Greg, bought a special tour around the ship The tour ended with the opportunity to speak to the captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino.
“I couldn’t believe that he had abandoned ship and done those other things that he was charged with,” said Paul. “He seemed like a genuinely nice guy who cared about his passengers.”
Dan was also upset by the captain’s actions.
“He’s been working so long in that area that he’d know that it was his responsibility,” Dan said.
But the distress and tragedy that the passengers experienced was more important to them than who was at fault.
“There were a lot of people who had small kids, and how do you get off with these young kids when the boat has tipped?” asked Nancy. “Cabins were located throughout the 5-11th floors which you had to go to first to get your life jacket then proceed to the 4th floor. If the staircase is partially on its side how do you get from one floor to the next, especially if you are carrying small children or are elderly? Also, with so many different languages, how do you communicate to even tell people how to get off the boat? I can just see that there would be a lot of chaos, and people we interacted with were trying to make it through that chaos.”
Despite not being on the ship when it crashed, the whole family was still heavily impacted.
“It’s crazy to look at the news stories and see videos of passengers when they’re getting off and being able to see the ship [tipped over] and think, ‘Oh yeah, that was next to the buffet, or that was the circuit we took to our room,’” said Paul. “It’s very personal.”
Besides the fact that it was a shocking experience, Dan also considered the possibility of adventure on a sinking ship.
“There’s a part of me that thinks it would be cool to be able to tell the story of how we got off a sinking cruise ship, but really I’m thankful we weren’t on it when it happened,” said Dan. “It’s really easy to think that we would’ve gotten off, and that the only ones who didn’t were either really old or really young, but you never know if we really would have.”
Paul also thought about what a good story it would have been.
“Initially, when I heard about the crash, I thought it would have been cool to be on the ship,” said Paul. “ It would have been a much better story to tell my friends, instead of just saying ‘I was on the ship . . . just not when it crashed.’”
Paul’s sister, Allison (‘09), has dreamed about what the experience could’ve been like if her family had been on the sinking ship.
“Only one of the dreams was really scary or could have been considered a nightmare though,” said Allison. “In this dream, my older brother didn’t make it onto a lifeboat because he had gone back to help someone else off the ship. He ended up going down with the sinking ship and it was very sad.”
But Allison expressed a feeling of thanks for her family’s luck of escaping the disasterous event.
“I’m very thankful,” said Allison. “I don’t know if we even could have gotten off and if we did, I don’t know how long it would’ve taken to get home. I’m just very thankful.”