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Cruise ship captain says he tripped, fell into lifeboat

January 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
As search efforts for missing people were hampered by bad weather on Wednesday, the captain offered a new excuse for leaving his ship, saying he tripped and fell.

Francesco Schettino is quoted in an Italian newspaper saying when the ship tilted, he tripped and fell into a lifeboat, and that's why he escaped, while passengers and crew members fought for their lives.

Schettino, remains under house arrest, accused of causing the wreck and then abandoning ship. Schettino's lawyer insists the captain is grief-stricken and not the ship-abandoning coward who has been portrayed in recorded phone calls.

The transmission shows the captain making excuses for why he couldn't get back on board, and the coast guard criticizing him for leaving.

Three additional crew members, including the captain's second in command, may also face charges from prosecutors. Some other crews members have spoken out, saying the situation was not under control and some of the lifeboats were not working properly.

A video of the same boat in August could support part of Schettino's story. In the video, the boat passes even closer to Giglio Island. Schettino claims he hit uncharted rocks and was not taking a risk, steering close enough to Giglio for a salute.

More than 21 people are still missing, including Gerald and Barbara Ann Heil, a couple from Minnesota. One woman who had been on the list turned up alive in Germany.

But rescue operations have been temporarily suspended, as the Costa Concordia shifted dangerously on the rocks. There are fresh worries the ship might start leaking fuel.

When the search resumes, crews will be focusing on the location in the ship where five bodies - four men and one woman, all wearing lifejackets - were discovered Tuesday. The death toll stands at 11.

Meanwhile, the first victim of the ship wreck has been identified. Sandor Feher, a 38-year-old musician, was last seen going back to his cabin to save his violin.

See photos of the Costa Concordia cruise ship wreck.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.