Missing braveheart saved lives till the end

Jan 21, 2012, 06:29 IST | Nivedita Dargalkar

Friend and co-worker Florence Joseph says the 33-yr-old cook from Naigaon, who remains missing, was last seen handing out life jackets on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia

Friend and co-worker Florence Joseph says the 33-yr-old cook from Naigaon, who remains missing, was last seen handing out life jackets on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia
Eight days after Italian cruise Costa Concordia ran into a reef and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio, 33-year-old crewmember Russel Rebello's whereabouts remain a mystery.

Kevin Rebello shows a picture of his brother Russel on the Isola del Giglio in Italy where the cruise liner Costa Concordia went aground

Twenty other people are still missing, and hopes of finding any of them alive are fading fast. MiD DAY spoke to friends and co-workers of the Naigaon resident in trying to piece together the course of events before Russel disappeared.

"The siren to wear life jackets created confusion on board as many of them were stored in the cabins in the lower deck where water had already seeped in, and they were inaccessible.
Thus, the number of life jackets compared to people on the ship was greatly reduced," said Florence Joseph, a good friend of Russel, who was with him on the ship.

Captain's call
Unfortunately, in the midst of the confusion regarding the life vests, the captain set off the emergency alarm and instructed all crewmembers to report to their pre-designated points to facilitate evacuation, she said.

Even as surviving crew member Christopher Vaity's wife welcomed him with a warm embrace, Russel's whereabouts are still unknown.

"Russel was to report to the station where the life raft was present. It is used for evacuating crewmembers in emergency," said Joseph.

However, Joseph maintains, even at this point Russel continued helping passengers get into lifeboats and don life jackets without wearing one himself.

Joseph added, "When I was leaving the ship in a lifeboat, I called out to Russel, who was standing near the adjacent life raft, and asked him to wear a life jacket. However, he kept telling me that he would be fine."

Joseph claimed that a lot of crewmembers instructed Russel to don a vest but he gave them the same answer.


At this time the ship suddenly tilted dangerously to one side. "That's when the life raft that Russel was stationed near got stuck.

He could not rush back into the ship as the distance between the raft and the ship was too great. However, as he was not wearing a life jacket, he could not jump into the water either," said Joseph recounting the tragic course of events.

Rahul Raghav, Russel's friend and bartender in the restaurant in the ship where he worked, said, "Russel was on sick leave for four days owing to severe fever and cold and was resting in his cabin when the ship hit the rocks."

Water started gushing in and reached the cabin at the lower deck where the 33-year-old was asleep. "Shocked with the sudden incursion of water into his cabin, Russel rushed to the restaurant upstairs where he met me and other crewmembers.
At that very moment, the siren went off and we were instructed to wear life jackets and help passengers with the same.

By that time, the ship had tilted a bit. However, till then, the captain had not declared an emergency and kept announcing that there was an electrical breakdown on the ship, which would be rectified shortly. Hence, no one understood the gravity of the situation. Russel and I kept joking that we would be on land soon."

Sizeable problem
However, as per the captain's instructions when the restaurant workers accessed the nearest life jacket box, they found vests for children stored in them instead of those for adults.

"I donned a children's life jacket. However, as Russel did not wear one at that point, I asked him to go ahead and find one for himself, as he did not know how to swim," added Raghav. "There was an Italian manager by the name of Dominic who was also stationed at the life raft with Russel.

When I asked him about Russel's whereabouts, he said that when the ship tilted dangerously, he jumped into the freezing water, assuming that Russel would do the same. However, when he looked back, he could not find Russel anywhere," Raghav said.

"I wonder why he kept ignoring us when so many people asked him to wear a life jacket. I am really worried about him and pray he is well. My family and I are not going to celebrate my safe return till Russel is found," added Joseph.

Out of sight
When MiD DAY spoke to Christopher Vaity, Costa Concordia's chief security officer, he said, "After emergency was declared, I evacuated all the cabins and channels on-board with the master key.
I also cleared the cabin in which Russel was asleep before he came out to help people. However, during the evacuation, me and my staff did not find Russel anywhere."

"Some of my men reported that they had seen Russel distributing life jackets and helping out passengers, but no one knows for sure where he went later, as everyone was busy tackling the crisis at that time," he added.
At least 11 people died after the ship ran aground off Italy's coast with some 4,200 people on board.

Searching for answers
Speaking to MiD DAY about the rescue operations and efforts to find Russel, Director General of Shipping Satish B Agnihotri, said, "The Italy maritime board officials are currently carrying out search and rescue operations.
We have also sent them a formal request." He added, "Since there have been casualties, they will be conducting investigations.

As of now, we want to let them carry out their work and will take a call after the maritime officials submit a report to us regarding the incident."

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