A Central New York family was onboard the ship when it crashed into the rocks. Eyewitness News shared their story of survival. Now, Joe Parker has the story of their journey home.
The Duanesburg, NY, couple and their daughter fought for survival and climbed free of the sinking ship in January, Friday the 13th, no doubt. The family says the confusion and disorder didn't stop when they got free from the wreckage.
Passenger Joan Fleser says, "They told people to go back to our cabins!" But, being veteran cruise tourists, she and her husband, Brian Aho, knew returning to their cabin would be going to a watery grave. Joan says, "We didn't want to get take a chance of being trapped."
Instead, Brian and Joan fought to get their daughter on a lifeboat and to the tiny island of Giglio. When they got to land, the people of the island came to their aid. Thanks to the Italian hospitality, the exhausted, surviving travelers found shelter for Saturday night. "It just really lifts your heart to see people are truly good. They just came and helped us and gave with no idea of who we were. You know, that goes a long way in helping get through something like this," Joan says.
The very next morning, the family did what most Americans would do in an international tragedy: Contact the U.S. Embassy. Brian and Joan say they called the Embassy and officials knew about the incident, but refused to come to the scene. Instead advising them to take a taxi to the Embassy.
Joan explained to the Embassy, "We can't get a cab. We don't have any money." She says the Embassy told her to borrow it from someone. Joan says, "We don't know anyone to borrow money from. Other people from the ship didn't have anything either."
In the very clothes they were wearing when the ship suddenly crashed, they waited to be greeted by a welcoming and helpful Embassy staff. That didn't happen. Joan says, "Some man from the Embassy came out (in a nice) nice warm, long coat. He tells us we're goign to have to wait until 10:00 a.m. First, he starts fiddling with the buttons on his coat, and we're thinking 'oh, he's gonna take off his coat and give it to the poor kid that's shivering.' That didn't happen. And, at that point we just all started bitterly complaining to him. He said, 'Well, it's not protocol.' Honey we don't care about protocol. We're cold. Just let us in. They finally let us in."
After a very cold greeting and with their temporary passports in hand the family was closer to getting home to Central New York. But, they have strong feelings about that experience. Brian tells us, "I thought embassies were supposed to help citizens in distress. We felt abandoned. The lack of support from the cruise company and the lack of support from the American Embassy. It was a big disappointment."
Their survival advice for future travelers? Don't ignore the safety warnings you're given. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Do not assume the response to any emergency will go "as planned" and, Brian says, "If you're in a foreign country with a problem, yes, contact the American Embassy, but be prepared for disappointment."