On January 13, 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 sentenced to 16 years in prison for several manslaughter after the disaster that left 32 people dead.
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, the ship’s Italian Pianist Antimo Magnotta, who now lives and works in London, relived his terrifying ordeal and told Sky News how he is still tormented by flashbacks of what he has witnessed.
I worked at a very stylish 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 peaceful.
Then all of a sudden the vessel swerved and started to bank. It was really unexpected because the conditions at sea made it nonsense.
I was like – “did we hit a whale or a giant monster or something?”
I fell and the piano started to drift on stage. I left the bar and found myself tripping down sloping hallways with passengers and crew. I walked towards the center of the ship where there would be more balance.
When I got there, I found myself with other crew members and passengers on this huge dance floor. We expected instructions, some sort of explanation, but the ship started to have multiple blackouts and blackouts.
The ship was making some very strange movements, it would tilt to one side and then slowly tilt to the other side, I was like – “what is this?”
Passengers and crew were shouting and shouting names. We couldn’t see each other in the dark.
It was pretty cinematic I have to say, it looked like a David Lynch movie actually.
Finally, after more than an hour, the emergency signal on board sounded.
I was a pianist, but I was also a crew member, and had been trained to perform certain tasks in an emergency.
I reached my main post 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 expected a crew member from the deck (the room where the ship is commanded) to get down and lead me and my crew to our designated life raft.
But no one came from the deck, and of course the ship, meanwhile, was still performing this very macabre choreography of slowly capsizing.
As the ship rocked, I was confronted with a portrait of an unfolding tragedy, a grotesque paradox.
It was like being in a cabinet of horrors. I mainly remember the sounds – there was this cacophony of the bowels of the ship. People were screaming.
I am describing the ship at this time as being like a dying swan. It was suffering.
I finally saw a crew member dressed 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 it caused a massive leak to the side of the ship.”
He was very restless, he was running on adrenaline and said, “You know what, the best suggestion would be that you run for your life, and if you can, give up ship.”
I thought it must have been some kind of joke, but then he just disappeared.
Everyone really panicked and ended up scattering all over the place.
This was the very beginning of my personal nightmare as I had to perform a grueling evacuation of the ship.
I knew where the life raft I was to climb was located, and I knew it would now be underwater.
I was 41 at the time and I thought I couldn’t die, that must be a joke.
But I started to think about my daughter and it sparked a reaction in me, so I started to climb metal bars, ladders, pipes, whatever I could find in my way.
It took a while, but I found myself on the side of the ship outside, facing the dark sea, hanging on a winch, a crane, I was holding on to this rope as if I was clinging to life itself .
All I had to do was wait to be rescued, it was difficult because it was pitch dark, the hardest thing to do was make myself visible.
It lasted about four hours.
The ship was more or less sideways at this point, breaching at a very dramatic angle, perhaps 80 to 85 degrees, if not more.
It was like the carcass of a stranded whale. I could feel and hear the ship’s rattle.
When I was on the side of the ship, I felt that something was deteriorating, disintegrating, my image, my story, was fading, she was fainting, “I can’t die”, I told myself .
I was not alone of course, there was a group of 35 to 40 people around me, passengers and crew.
I could see lifeboats and there was very frantic activity in the water. Helicopters were hovering overhead but they didn’t seem to see us.
Eventually a little lifeboat was sent for us, and I will always say jumping into that little lifeboat was like coming back to life.
It was 3 a.m., 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 start of my second life.
Unfortunately, later I learned that two fellow musicians had lost their lives. My friend, a Hungarian violinist, who lost his life, had just come down to his hut.
I just thought to myself what if it had been the other way around?
It has haunted me for a long time.
In the aftermath of the disaster, I was devastated and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
I had lingering mental scars, survivor’s guilt, and chronic insomnia. I could no longer play the piano. I had a stone in my chest and not a heart.
I adopted a new form of self-help and started to write, and of course I cried sometimes.
It was a way of expressing my anger and myself.
These days I feel a lot better and play the piano at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Now I feel a lot better, but I still have terrible flashbacks and sleeplessness – my sleep is still interrupted.