Witness: Costa Concordia Captain Didn't Fall, He Jumped

By: From CNN.com
By: From CNN.com
The crew member says he saw no passengers on the ship when Schettino left.  Witness Stefano Iannelli says Capt. Francesco Schettino said, "What have I done.."

The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (CNN) -- The captain of the Costa Concordia did not "fall" into a lifeboat after the ship hit rocks, as he contends, a crew member testified. Instead, Francesco Schettino "jumped into the lifeboat," Stefano Iannelli said.

Schettino is on trial in Grosseto on charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship after 32 people died in the shipwreck off the Tuscan island of Giglio on January 13, 2012.

As part of his defense for the abandoning ship charge, Schettino has maintained that by the time he left the crippled vessel, the inclination made it impossible to stay on the ship. He told the court at a hearing in October that the ship was literally falling on top of him and he fell into the lifeboat. The ship ended up lying on its side.

Iannelli, who followed Schettino off the ship, testified Monday that he did not see passengers when they left the vessel, even though more than 1,000 people were later rescued from the ship. In a taped conversation between the captain and the port authority in Livorno, the port authority ordered Schettino to "get back on board" while passengers were still being rescued from the other side of the ship.

Schettino, who admits that he was in command when the ship veered off course and hit the rocks, also blames a malfunction of the ship's watertight doors for making the situation worse. His defense lawyers say that created a new emergency after the initial accident.

On Tuesday, the court heard testimony from Hugo Di Piazza, a technician who was working in the engine room when Schettino hit the rocks. The court heard a taped call from Di Piazza and the bridge in which he is heard saying that "something" had ripped a 70-meter (230-foot) gash in the hull and warning that the engine rooms were flooding.

"A 10-foot jet of water hit my back," Di Piazza told the court. He said he then closed the watertight doors but the "water infiltrated" the seals.

If the watertight doors had functioned, Schettino's defense maintains, the ship would have stayed upright and afloat despite the fact that it had picked up an 80-ton boulder from the seabed.

After losing power, the Costa Concordia glided past the port of Giglio and then made a 180-degree turn back toward the port before capsizing.

Di Piazza said he narrowly escaped the flooded engine rooms. "I opened other doors but the water kept rising," he told the court before describing how he and another technician escaped to the upper control platform and the engine room flooded.

The court also heard an intercepted telephone conversation a week after the accident in which Di Piazza said that Schettino seemed oblivious to the gravity of the situation.

"He didn't understand the situation. We were idiots and he didn't give a damn if we died," Di Piazza said.

After Tuesday's testimony from crew members, the trial will resume next week with testimony from traumatized passengers who survived the incident. Schettino is expected to testify before the end of the year.

Schettino argues that he is a hero who saved the lives of more than 4,000 people, not a villain whose negligence led to the deaths of 32. In addition to blaming the watertight doors, the captain's attorneys also say the ship would not have crashed had the helmsman turned it in the direction that Schettino told him to 13 seconds before impact.

The helmsman, Jacob Rusli Bin, and four others were convicted in a plea deal in July for their role in the disaster. A Florence court is considering the validity of those plea bargain agreements.

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