British survivors of capsized Costa Concordia return home

Emotional scenes at Heathrow as British survivors of the accident arrive home

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British survivors of the fatal Costa Concordia cruise ship accident in Italy have described scenes of chaos during the evacuation, as they arrive home.

John Rodford, of Rochester in Kent, told BBC News the crew did not help guide them to safety.

Dancer James Thomas, 19, of Sutton Coldfield, said he had to escape through the centre of the vessel which had been "obliterated by the tilt".

All Britons on board - 23 passengers and 12 crew - have been accounted for.

The ship hit rocks off the coast of Tuscany on Friday. The death toll rose to six on Monday with 14 people still unaccounted for.

Map of Italy The accident happened off the island of Giglio

The ship's captain and first officer have both been arrested. The captain, Francesco Schettino, was held on suspicion of causing deaths - prosecutors say he left the ship before evacuation was complete.

Mr Schettino told Italian television he did not understand how the ship ran aground.

'Errors of judgement'

"Even though we were sailing along the coast with the tourist navigation system, I firmly believe the rocks weren't detected," he said.

On Monday the ship's owners, Costa Crociere, issued a statement (in Italian) which said: "It seems that the commander made errors of judgement that had serious consequences.

"The route followed by the ship turned out to be too close to the coast, and it seems that his decision in handling the emergency didn't follow Costa Crociere's procedures which are in line, and in some cases, go beyond, international standards."

Speaking at Heathrow airport, Mr Rodford said there was a lack of instruction in English from the crew.

"Now and again people would talk a little bit of English but when they were getting the lifeboats and everything they were talking in their own language, which we didn't understand," he said.

Start Quote

I'm looking over the side and I'm thinking 'I'm going to have to jump in that water,' and I hate the water”

End Quote Mandy Rodford Passenger

"We didn't see the crew. We only saw the chefs and waiters."

'Never again'

Mr Rodford's wife, Mandy, said the couple had initially got into a lifeboat on the highest side of the grounded ship but it became stuck because of the angle of the boat.

"The men were trying to help the women down. I'm looking over the side and I'm thinking 'I'm going to have to jump in that water,' and I hate the water," she said.

"I thought, if I don't die from the swimming part, I'm going to die from the shock of having to get in it."

Asked if they would go on another cruise, Mr Rodford said: "I'm not going on a cruise again." His wife added: "Never, ever, ever."

A group of British dancers who worked on the ship also arrived back at Heathrow late on Sunday.

Passenger Brian Page greeted by his sister Passengers have spoken about the crew's apparent confusion after the accident

Mr Thomas said of the evacuation: "It was chaos, because we had to go through the centre of the ship, which had been obliterated by the tilt. Everything was everywhere."

He said he was in charge of 20 staff who helped passengers to emergency meeting points and life rafts. "It was handling everyone else that was the biggest problem," he said.

'Terrifying'

Fellow dancer Rose Metcalf, 23, from Wimborne in Dorset, told BBC Breakfast: "There was absolute panic. It was just terrifying, it was just trying to keep people calm. People were white, people were crying, screaming."

She said the noise of the impact was "terrifying".

Miss Metcalf, who as a crew member helped passengers evacuate, said: "Because of the listing we knew they wouldn't be able to deploy all of the life rafts on the port side.

Rose Metcalf: "The sound was absolutely terrifying. When I looked out of the window - I did prepare for the worst"

"We were literally throwing each other... we were creating human chains to try and pass people over gaps that if they dropped down there was no recovery from.

"As the ship was listing, what was vertical was becoming horizontal."

Another dancer, Phoebe Jones, 20, from Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, said she was about to climb into a tiny box as part of a magic show when the ship started leaning.

'Incredible noise'

"Suddenly there was a blackout and everything from the stage crashed to one side," she said. "Some people started to panic, but I was fine."

She said there were no alarms or warnings, but she instinctively went to her nearest emergency meeting point.

"When I got on to the ferry and realised I was actually on a hard surface and safe, that's when I realised," she said.

"We watched everything from that ferry and that night we just watched the Concordia sink."

Newlyweds Ian and Janice Donoff at Heathrow Newlyweds Ian and Janice Donoff have described the "mad rush" to flee the stricken cruise liner

One British couple, Ian and Janice Donoff, from London, were enjoying the magic show when the lights went off followed by an "incredible noise of scraping", and people started rushing out of the auditorium.

They climbed out on to the side of the stricken vessel after lifeboats failed to release.

They were eventually lowered down a rope ladder to awaiting life rafts.

"It's the most frightening thing coming down on a rope ladder by the whole side of the ship clutching on for dear life. It was an unbelievable ordeal," Mr Donoff said.

Amelia Leon, a singer from Birmingham, was with her boyfriend, ship's engineer Claudio Losito, when the ship hit the rocks.

The 22-year-old singer told the Sunday Mercury newspaper of her desperate escape from the sinking ship: "I looked out to sea and it was so dark. All I could see was the coast of the island about 400 metres away. I asked myself: 'Can I swim this if it comes to it?'

"It would be a hard, freezing swim but at least I would be off the ship. People were jumping in the water but in the end we got into a lifeboat and made it to safety," she added.

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