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Costa Concordia Tragedy Used As Training Tool For New Navy Pilots

posted 13 Sept 2013, 06:38 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 13 Sept 2013, 06:39 ]

Navy pilots who answered the emergency call the night the Costa Concordia hit rocks off the island of Giglio are now using their experience to help train new pilots.

IN AIR ABOVE GIGLIO, ITALY(REUTERS) -  When helicopters from the Italian navy airbase at Luni, northern Italy, were called out for an emergency on the night of January 13, 2012 they did not know what to expect.

There was limited information on what they would encounter, all they knew was a passenger ship was in distress.

For the pilots of First Squadron EH101, wearing night-vision glasses, it was difficult to see once they arrived near Giglio island on the Tuscan coast, all they thought they could see was a protruding section of coastline. It was the presence of the other emergency services shining their lights on something that brought into view the unexpected sight of the Costa Concordia cruise ship tilting over close to the shore.

The navy rescue team along with the coastguard, fire brigade and police services worked through the night helping rescue stranded passengers and bringing those in need to hospitals. Working through until the next day the navy team scanned the sea to make show no one had been left behind.

Over one year on from the tragedy which left 32 people dead, the navy is using valuable lessons learnt from that night in their training sessions to teach young pilots how to handle such emergencies.

"The principle problem when we were called out that night, apart from coordinating amongst at least 10 different rescue agencies, was flying over the scene of the tragedy using our night vision glasses. The most difficult problem we encountered was with the light in the area - all the rescue vessels were using lights and spotlights in the rescue area which did not help the use of our night vision glasses" said Second Lieutenant Lucia Franzetti.

Over four thousand passengers and crew were forced to abandon the Concordia at night, in an atmosphere of panic and confusion.

Many passengers chose to throw themselves into the water as spaces ran out on the vessel's lifeboats as the vessel started to incline more steeply towards the shore.

Navy pilots who flew on the mission that night have now entered the harrowing events into a flight simulator in order to train new pilots to be ready for the unthinkable.

"We have attained great results by using a flight simulator which has allowed us to recreate scenarios, that of the Costa Concordia has been reconstructed in detail and allowed our crews to confront different kinds of situations" said Commander Gianluca Arlotta.

Arlotta sits in the flight simulator with a trainee pilot explaining how he flew over the Concordia wreck on the night of the tragedy.

"It was so close to the coast it seemed just like a protrusion of the shoreline, but then with all the flashing lights, the boats and helicopters, that gave us the indication where we could find the ship," Arlotta explained to his trainee pilot as he sat in the simulator.

"When we were authorised we communicated directly with the other helicopters where we should start boarding the passengers," Arlotta said.

Some passengers were winched from the bow of the ship, others were plucked from the sea.

"This is the area where we first started to pick people up," Arlotta said as he showed the bow of the boat on the simulator.

Arlotta and his team flew over the wreck site until dawn making sure no one had been left behind in the sea.

As salvage experts prepare to rotate the wreck upright next Monday (September 16) the navy pilots will be back out in the skies above the Costa Concordia on their mission to safeguard the area as the complex operation takes place.