Danilo del Carro: 'Dragging a dead body from the sea is something you never get used to'

Tasked with finding bodies aboard the Costa Concordia, a diver tells of life in the murky depths

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The Independent Online

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 skilled 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 aboard the liner yesterday and helped pull them out. He told The Independent of the painstaking search he led through the bowels of the capsized liner 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 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 you way around."

Working 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 him 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 Marshal Del Carro, said he spent a total of one and half hours at the wreck. And with a vessel of such size – its length is nearly 300m (984ft), there is still a large area to search.

"That ship is huge. But the 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."

Marshal Del Carro also was successful yesterday during his grim mission to find the bodies of those presumed dead aboard the stricken liner. He located five corpses, near one of the main restaurants, and assisted in pulling them from the water and on to a waiting vessel.

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 life-jackets. 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 28 passengers who were unaccounted for.

So far, five holes have been blown into the side of the liner to allow divers to explore the flooded areas more easily – and to escape more quickly if things go wrong. If the ship settles and shows no more signs of moving, three more blasts are planned.

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