Italy ferry fire: Rescued passengers describe violence and panic on board stricken vessel

Nick Channing-Williams was one of the six Britons saved from the ship

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The Independent Online

Surviving passengers on board the ferry that caught fire on Sunday morning - from which eight died - described the “chaos” on board with some people reportedly trampling over and hitting each other to be the first in line for rescue.

All passengers and crew members, totalling nearly 480 people including six Britons, were taken to safety today when the car deck of the vessel caught fire off the coast of Corfu.

Several are being treated for hypothermia, some for mild carbon monoxide poisoning and one woman suffered a fractured pelvis, officials said. A man that had died and his injured wife were found in a lifeboat rescue chute while eight others have been also confirmed dead by coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos. Four of the bodies were found in the water around the ferry.

Greek truck driver Christos Perlis described the scene as “a chaos, a panic” after there was no crew in sight to direct the passengers after they had rushed out of their cabins when seeing them being filled with smoke. No fire alarms were reported to have been heard.

 

Mr Perlis, who had tried to impose order with the help of another man before jumping into the basket of a helicopter, said: “Our feet were burning and from the feet up we were soaked.

“Everyone there was trampling on each other to get on to the helicopter. First children, then women and then men.

“But the men, they started hitting us so they could get on first. They didn't take into consideration the women or the children, nothing.”

Turkish passenger Saadet Bayhan, speaking to Turkey's NTV television from a rescue ship, also said there were no fire alarms and that passengers woke each other up.

“We experienced the Titanic. The only thing missing was that we didn't sink,” she said.

A rescued Turkish passenger, Aylin Akamac, told the state-run Anadolu Agency from hospital in Brindisi that the rescue operation was disorganised and claimed there were only three lifeboats on the ferry.

burned-ship-norman-atlantic.jpg
The car ferry Norman Atlantic burns in the Adriatic Sea waters

Others had pleaded to their families and the authorities over the phone prior to the mass rescue mission to do whatever possible to save them from danger. A cook on the ship is reported to have said in a call to his wife: “I cannot breathe, we are all going to burn like rats. God save us.”

The family of British showjumper Nick Channing-Williams, who emerged from the vessel with his face covered in soot, said they were “extremely relieved” at his rescue. Mr Channing-Williams' Greek fiancée, Regina Theoffili, had previously been flown to safety in a helicopter.

A total of 422 passengers and 56 crew members were on board the ferry that caught fire off the coast that was found today to have “safety deficiencies” reported in an inspection on 19 December, including missing emergency system parts and faulty fire doors.

The 37-year-old show-jumper, who is based in Greece, is one of six Britons believed to have been travelling on the ship which had been sailing from the western Greek port of Patras to the Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic Sea.

Mr Channing-Williams called his family in Berkshire to say he had been taken to a hospital in Italy and was on his way to being reunited with Ms Theoffili.

His stepfather, Steve Jobar, said: “We believe he has been helicoptered to the mainland and taken to the same hospital as Regina.”

Susan Daltas said her daughter Mia and her two granddaughters had been rescued from the ship while her British son-in-law Marcus called her from a phone while he has remained on the ship. The youngest girl has been taken to hospital to be treated for hypothermia.

Of her son-in-law, Mrs Daltas said: “He was shaken, obviously, but I think he’d been staying strong for the family, and the minute they were safe he went a bit wobbly.

“It’s just cold, and he said his mobile was soaking wet because they had to keep moving around the boat to get away from the fire. So it’s obviously not pleasant.”

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