‘I still have terrible flashbacks’: The pianist who escaped from stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia

On 13 January 2012, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Tuscany after hitting a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Francesco Schettino, the captain of the cruise liner, was jailed for 16 years for multiple manslaughter after the disaster that left 32 people dead.

On the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, the ship’s Italian pianist Antimo Magnotta, who is now living and working in London, has relived his terrifying ordeal and told Sky News how he is still tormented by flashbacks from what he witnessed.
I was working in a very elegant bar at the back of the ship called Bar Vienna. I remember it was a beautiful night, a starry night, the sea was very calm and quiet.
Then all of a sudden the ship suddenly swerved and started tilting. It was really unexpected because the conditions at sea meant it made no sense for this to happen.


I thought to myself – “did we hit a whale or a giant monster or something?”.

I fell over and the piano started drifting on stage. I left the bar and found myself stumbling along sloping corridors with passengers and crew members. I was heading to the centre of the ship where there would be more balance.

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When I got there I found myself with other crew members and passengers on this huge dancefloor. We were expecting some instructions, some kind of explanation, but the ship began to have multiple blackouts and power failures.
The ship was performing some very strange movements, it was tilting on one side and then slowly titling on the other side, I was thinking to myself – “what is this?”.

Image: More than 30 people died when the cruise ship capsized
Passengers and crew members were screaming and calling out names. We couldn’t see each other in the darkness.
It was quite cinematic I must say, it looked like a David Lynch film actually.
Finally, after more than an hour, the emergency signal on board was sounded.
I was a pianist, but I was also a crew member, and I had been trained to carrying out certain duties in an emergency.
I reached my master station and was in charge of a roll call for 25 crew members to embark on a life raft. I remember four people on my list were missing.
I was expecting a crew member from the bridge (the room where the ship is commanded) to come downstairs and lead myself and my crew members to our designated life raft.
But no one came from the bridge, and of course the ship, in the meantime, was still performing this very macabre choreography of slowly capsizing.
While the ship was tipping over I was confronted with a portrait of an ongoing tragedy, a grotesque paradox.

Image: People left the vessel on rescue boats after it hit a rock
It was like being inside a cabinet of horrors. I mainly remember the sounds – there was this cacophony from the bowels of the ship. People were screaming.
I describe the ship in this moment as being like a swan in agony. It was suffering.
I eventually saw a crew member dressed all in white carrying a box of walkie talkies. I asked him what was going on.
He whispered: “Don’t you know? We hit a rock, and this caused a massive leak on the side of the ship.”
He was very agitated, he was running on adrenaline, and said: “You know what, the best suggestion would be for you to run for your life, and if you can, abandon the ship.”
I thought this must be some kind of joke, but then he just vanished.
Everyone was really panicking and end up scattering all around.

Image: Antimo Magnotta, centre, was working on the ship when it hit a rock in January 2012
This was the very beginning of my personal nightmare, because I had to perform a gruelling evacuation of the ship.
I knew where the life raft I was supposed to get on was located, and I knew it would now be under water.
I was 41 at the time and said to myself I can’t die, this must be a joke.
But I started thinking about my daughter and this triggered a reaction in me, so I started climbing on some metallic bars, some ladders, pipes, whatever I could find in my way.
It took some time, but I found myself on the flank of the ship outside, facing the dark sea, holding onto a winch, a crane, I was holding on to this rope like I was clinging on to life itself.

Image: Mr Magnotta is pictured on a vessel during happy times
All I had to do was just wait to be rescued, It was difficult because it was pitch dark, the most difficult thing to do was to make myself visible.
This lasted pretty much four hours.
The ship was more or less on it side by this point, breaching at a very dramatic angle, maybe 80 to 85 degrees, if not more.
It was like the carcass of a stranded whale. I could feel and hear the death rattle of the ship.
When I was on the flank of the ship I felt something is deteriorating, disintegrating, my image, my story, was fading away, it was vanishing, “I can’t die,” I said to myself.
I was not alone of course, there was a bunch of between 35 to 40 people around me, passengers and crew members.
I could see rescue boats and there was very frantic activity in the water. Helicopters were hovering above but they didn’t seem to see us.

Image: The ship’s captain Francesco Schettino was jailed for 16 years after the disaster
Eventually a little rescue boat was sent for us, and I will always say, jumping in this little rescue boat was like jumping back to life.
It was 3am, more than five hours after the ship hit the rock, that the rescue boat dropped me off at Giglio Island.
It was like celebrating a second birthday, it was the beginning of my second life.
Unfortunately, later on, I learned that two fellow musicians had lost their lives. My friend, a Hungarian violinist, who lost his life, had just gone down to his cabin.
I just thought to myself what if it had been the other way round?
This has haunted me for a long time.

Image: Guard officers threw flowers in the water at Giglio Island to remember those who died 10 years after the disaster
In the aftermath of the disaster I was devastated and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
I had mental scars still lingering, survivor’s guilt and chronic insomnia. I couldn’t play the piano anymore. I had a stone in my chest and not a heart.
I took up a new form of self-therapy and started writing, and I would cry sometimes of course.
It was a way to express myself and my anger.
These days I feel much better and I play the piano in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Now I am feeling much better, but still I have terrible flashbacks and insomnia – my sleep is always interrupted.

Source : Sky News