Archive for Thursday, September 28, 2000

Ferry captain arrested for crash

September 28, 2000

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— Greek authorities on Wednesday arrested the captain and four crew members of a ferry that struck a rocky outcrop marked by a light beacon that could be seen for seven miles. At least 66 people were killed.

Searches continued throughout the night for possible survivors. Some survivors said crew members were watching a soccer match on television Tuesday night when the ship, holding more than 500 people, went aground in a gale in the Aegean Sea just two miles from shore.

"I joked with my husband, 'Who's driving the ship?"' said Christa Liczbinski, a pregnant, 37-year-old from Seeheim, Germany, who was traveling with her husband a Lufthansa pilot and their 4-year-old son.

Greece's lead prosecutor, Panagiotis Dimopoulos, said he would seek indictments for the crew on murder charges.

"It is inexplicable how the ship collided with a well-known rock that carries a light visible from a distance of seven miles," said coast guard chief Andreas Sirigos. "You have to be blind not to see it."

Survivors described a scene of panic and chaos as passengers tried to slip off the sinking ship into the swelling seas.

At least 473 people were rescued, including two Americans, authorities said. Nine people are still officially listed as missing, but that number could be considerably higher since tickets can be bought on the ship and are not issued to children under age 6.

Navy divers planned to search through the sunken ferry Thursday, which went down within 45 minutes of the crash.

The 34-year-old Express Samina was on its daily meandering route through the Aegean with an assortment of passengers foreign tourists heading for sun-soaked holiday isles, residents heading home, army conscripts returning to military bases from leaves. There were reportedly also passengers from Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and South Africa.

About 10 p.m., the 345-foot, 4,407-ton ferry rammed into the Portes islet, a large rocky outcrop two miles from shore that is marked on maritime charts and has a navigation light, Sirigos said.

Christine Shannon, 30, an artist and teacher from Seattle, said she was on the main deck at the time of the crash.

"I saw it hit," Shannon said. "It was well above the top deck. ... It was like the movie 'Titanic.'"

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