While dining with her husband on board the Costa Concordia on Jan. 13, Addie King of Brick felt a sudden shift in the cruise ship. Moments later, dishes and glasses began to slip off the tables and shatter to the floor.
Although the crew assured passengers that nothing had happened, King’s first instinct was to get out of the dining room and prepare for the worst.
A survivor of the Costa Concordia shipwreck, King told her story to 40 senior citizens at a special lecture and luncheon held Feb. 14 at Jewish Family & Children’s Service senior kosher nutrition program. The program relocated Jan. 1 from the JCC in Deal to its new home, Congregation Brothers of Israel in Elberon.
On Jan. 13, the Costa Concordia struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the western coast of Italy. The number of confirmed dead is 25, with seven passengers out of the 4,200 on board still unaccounted for.
Five days before the wreck, King, 26, had boarded the ship with her husband, Mike Stoll, in Barcelona, Spain, after visiting her sister, who lives on the nearby island of Majorca. It was the couple’s first — and last —— cruise, said King, a graduate student in psychological counseling at Monmouth University.
While most passengers continued their meals unconcerned, King and her husband raced to their cabin, where they changed into warm clothes, coats, and sneakers. They stuffed extra sweatshirts into their backpacks, grabbed their wallets and life vests, and rushed out of their cabin.
In the hallways, lights flickered on and off, yet a cruise employee who saw the couple clutching life vests told them they didn’t need them.
“There were so many children on the ship, and we didn’t want to alarm them so we hid our vests under our coats,” King told the gathering. “We were trying to stay calm for the sake of the kids. But it was an external calm; in my head there was an internal Titanic.”
King and her husband raced to the lifeboat station that had been described in the safety video passengers viewed when they first boarded the boat. When instructions finally came, they were broadcast in a medley of languages, none of which the Kings understood. By the time the English alert was sounded, the buzz from passengers was so loud that King could not hear the message.
“It turned out that they were telling people to return to their cabins, that it was just an electrical problem,” she said. “Everyone was waiting for a signal from the captain, which never came.”
The couple waited at the lifeboat station for close to 45 minutes, holding onto a pipe to keep from slipping along the sloping deck. When passengers were told to begin boarding the lifeboats, everyone surged forward in a scene King described as chaotic. “There were so many languages and no clear communication, a lot of pushing and shoving. Our boat filled up, so we had to find another one. My husband and I were holding onto each other so we wouldn’t get separated.”
Passengers were transported to the nearby island of Giglio, where they spent a sleepless night outside. King and her husband gave away their extra sweatshirts to passengers who fled the ship dressed in evening attire. Ships arrived the next morning to take them to Tuscany, where they were then transported to the airport in Rome.
Because the passengers’ passports were held in the ship’s office, said King, most embassies sent representatives to the airport to help stranded passengers. Surprisingly, no U.S. embassy representative came to the airport, King said, so the couple had to find their way on their own.
They were able to get on a flight that evening to New York, where they were greeted with hugs and tears by King’s father.
“It wasn’t until we were home that we found out the captain had abandoned the ship,” she said. Captain Francesco Schettino faces charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship, and causing a shipwreck.
King’s inspiring lecture is just one of many programs being planned for the senior kosher nutrition program, said its director, Joanne Glassoff.
“We are so happy to be in our new home,” she said before introducing the speaker. “Since we started here, we have felt the warmth that is Congregation Brothers of Israel.”
“We’re very grateful that Brothers of Israel took us in with such a warm and loving welcome,” said Marlene Cohn of Oakhurst, who accompanies her mother, Doris Einhorn, to senior nutrition programs. “We’ve been able to meet and flourish and to continue our current events and Yiddish classes.”
King’s story emphasized the importance of paying attention to safety precautions, said program participant Edith Glasser of Wayside. “She lived through something traumatic and helped others in the process.”