Family returns from cruise ship nightmare

January 17, 2012 9:44:18 AM PST
Jim Salzburg, his wife, Jo, and daughter, Mary Jo, are lucky to be alive. They were back home Monday in Richmond, Ill., a small town near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, telling their story of survival.

The Salzburgs have gone on cruises before, but this was to be their first Mediterranean cruise: a relaxing, fun-filled week along the coasts of Italy, France and Spain, but four hours in, they found themselves on a sinking ship with a crew that seemed to be as much in the dark as the passengers.

"All of a sudden there was a big thud, a scraping sound and then a thud," said Jim Salzburg.

Salzburg and his family left their cabin on the Costa Concordia, as did other passengers. They were told: No worries - it's an electrical problem. Then the lights went out and the ship began to list - then confusion; no announcements, no directions.

"They're telling us, 'Well, go up to three,' because we were on two, go up to three," said Jim Salzburg. "Got to three, they said, 'Go up to four'; we went to four, they said, 'Go to five' and I says, 'Wait a minute.'"

"There was no messages going on, and people running up and down the stars panicking, people passing out, nobody there to help," said Mary Jo Salzburg. "So we just figured, we have to do this on our own." said Mary Jo Salzburg.

Two hours after the thud finally came the call to abandon ship, but the Salzburgs say the crew members apparently had little training in how to operate the lifeboats, and people were jamming themselves aboard with only light clothing on a very cold night.

"My mom had difficulty walking and she just kept saying, 'I can't do this, I can't do this,' and I'm like, 'We've gotta do this. We've gotta do this,'" said Mary Jo Salzburg.

When the lifeboat the Salzburgs were in hit the water, everybody cheered, and Jim started recording video with his phone.

"The main crew, the captain, and whoever his underlings really messed this up - this is terrible," Jim is heard saying in the video taken from the lifeboat.

Through it all, the Salzburgs say there was little if any communication. Passengers were told to go to their muster stations.

"No one knew where the muster stations were, so we went out to where the lifeboats were," said Jim, who said the problem was that everyone else also was trying to get to the lifeboats at the same time.

There had been no safety drill - it was scheduled for the next day - crew members did not seem to know what they were doing. The Salzburgs wonder, as do others: What was the captain thinking?

"He should be responsible for those people that died," said Jim Salzburg. The Salzburgs said they felt that he should "absolutely" face criminal charges.

"Why in the world would you put a huge, huge cruise ship that close to land?" said Jim Salzburg. Salzburg said he felt a comparison could be made between the Costa Concordia and the Titanic.

"It was the same type of deal - the ship is listing and people are running for lifeboats. I was just waiting for the band to start playing," said Salzburg.

The captain is being held and is facing serious criminal charges. For reasons unknown, he apparently deviated from the standard course his ship was supposed to take.

Once their lifeboat reached the nearby island of Giglio, the Salzburgs say the nightmare continued. Everyone was cold, still in shock, and people did not know where they were. One of the few places open was a small church with no heat, and a bathroom that was very much in demand. The passengers had only the clothes they were wearing and no passports. The Salzburgs credit their travel agent and staff at the U.S. Embassy in Rome with getting them home so quickly.

ABC7 did not talk to Jo Salzburg Monday. She was resting, still recovering from a nightmare.