Vanity Fair : Bryan Burrough on the Costa Concordia Captain's Deadly Error and the Dramatic Rescue That Saved Thousands of Lives

April 5th, 2012

Vanity Fair
April 5, 2012

After a desperate hairpin turn away from the open sea—a maneuver that Captain Schettino claimed saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives, Schettino made an error that led to many deaths the night the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Giglio, Italy. American captain and nautical analyst John Konrad tells Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough that the ship had already been listing starboard, toward the peninsula. When Schettino dropped the ship’s anchors in an attempt to prevent it from falling farther, he instead created the opposite effect. “You can see they let out too much chain,” Konrad says. “I don’t know the precise depths, but if it was 90 meters, they let out 120 meters of chain. So the anchors never caught. The ship then went in sideways, almost tripping over itself, which is why it listed. If he had dropped the anchors properly, the ship wouldn’t have listed so badly.” How to explain so fundamental a blunder? Video of the chaos on the bridge that night gives insight into the captain’s state of mind. “You can tell he was stunned,” says Konrad. “The captain really froze. It doesn’t seem his brain was processing.”

After Schettino left the ship, Giglio’s police chief, Roberto Galli, was stunned to find the captain sitting on the rocks at the shore watching the ship sink. When he encouraged Schettino to return to the ship the captain told him, “No, I want to stay here, to verify conditions on the ship.” Galli stayed with him for 30 minutes. “At one point, Schettino asked to use my telephone, because his was running out of juice. I wasn’t giving this guy my phone. Because, unlike him, I was trying to save people,” Galli says. “Finally, when I was about to leave, they asked for a blanket and tea. I said, ‘If you come back with me, I’ll give you whatever you want.’ But he didn’t move. So I left.”

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