Brick Couple Wasted Little Time Getting Off Ship
Mike Stoll and Addie King, a married couple who live just a few blocks from the Manasquan River, were in calm waters off Tuscany chatting over risotto and potato and leek soup in the second-floor dining room of the cruise ship Costa Concordia.
They were talking about how fun the pre-dinner magic show was Friday night. How that day, the fifth of their planned weeklong Mediterranean area cruise, was by far the best. How they explored Rome and saw pieces of history.
"And then we experienced history," said Stoll, 29.
The plates and glasses started flying. The couple did not know it at the time that the ship had run aground. The vessel hit a rock that sheared the hull of the massive luxury liner as it traveled, off its course, just a few miles from the shore of Giglio, a hilly island nestled on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
But Stoll and King knew something was wrong, and maybe 10 to 15 seconds after the initial jolt, there was a crashing sound. The ship started to list and the serene dining room instantly turned into a scene from the film "Titanic," despite the wait staff's best efforts to pass it off as something that "happens sometimes," like the way an airplane hits turbulence, the couple said.
The two, sitting near an opening in the dining room that offered a view of the first-floor diners, grabbed what they could on the table to keep the dinnerware from tumbling down onto the other guests; Stoll grabbed the plates, King grabbed the glasses. "He asked me, What should we do?" said King, 26. "I said, Get out of here."
They rushed down two flights of stairs back to their room, a starboard-side suite with a window, and stuffed a book bag with hooded sweatshirts, fleeces, "and, I don't know why, but I grabbed my keys" to the house, Stoll said.
Not wanting to cause panic, they concealed lifejackets beneath their coats and headed to a muster station on the outside deck, a place they were told during the cruise's training that guests should go in case of emergency.
By all technical terms, the situation was not to that point yet. Children were crying and there was a panic pulsing throughout the ship, yet, as the vessel continued to tilt to its port side, there were no alarms going off and no instruction from the crew to do anything beyond, as King was told by one crewman, "just go inside and get a drink."
Stoll could see signs of land lights, a pier in the distance. At one point, as he gripped the deck railing and tried to slow his heart rate, told his wife, "God forbid something happens, we can make this swim to shore."
About 30 to 45 minutes later, the list completely altered, and within seconds the starboard side was now sinking into the waters off Giglio, Stoll said. The alarm sounded: seven short blasts and then an eighth, sustained blast signaling an emergency. "That's when I really started to get scared," Stoll said.
Passengers shouted in Spanish, Italian, French, but rarely English and elbowed and shoved their way onto the fourth deck, where the lifeboats were. The crush of panicked passengers still did not fully know what had happened.
The same crew that had served dinner, swept the floors and danced in the ballroom had, about 45 minutes later, finally allowed the lifeboats to be released into the water, Stoll said. He and King paced quickly across the deck several times to find room on a lifeboat, any lifeboat -- "it was every man for himself," King said. King wiggled into a seat and Stoll stood, cramped, by her side.
"The crew members, they're not sailors. They're cooks, they're bartenders." Stoll said. "They're not trained like a Coast Guard member. They did the best they could, but they were just as terrified as us."
After a five-to 10- minute boat ride, the couple reached the shore of Giglio just before midnight Saturday, a terrifying three hours since they had sat down at dinner. Crew members unloaded the passengers and set back out for the slowly sinking ship to reload the lifeboat.
Stoll and King, meanwhile, monitored the ship's list, judging by its deck lights, from a pier that led to a small side street.
The town, which had been dark and fast asleep, slowly rose to life. A church and a cafe opened their doors to allow passengers in for heat and something to drink. Ambulances shuttled in and out of sight. Stoll and King found a payphone and called home to say they were OK.
They saw a body draped in a neon cloth.
Stoll and King wandered the periphery of the island seeking comfortable places to sit until about 6:30 Saturday morning, when help from the Italian government finally arrived.
Prosecutors accused Capt. Francesco Schettino of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship before all passengers were evacuated. The death toll nearly doubled to 11 on Tuesday when divers located five more bodies, The Associated Press reported.
The couple took a tortuous route back to the states, arriving at JFK International Airport in New York shortly after 10 Sunday night, where they met King's father, Scott King. By midnight, Addie King and Mike Stoll were at their two-story home in Brick, and were ready to get some sleep.
They each had their moments when they broke down from the physical and emotional toll of it all. King's was during a layover in London; Stoll's was when they hit the tarmac in Queens. "You got that feeling: It's finally over, I'm finally home," he said. "I feel like that now."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)