Report: Captain claims he "tripped" into lifeboat

The cruise ship captain under fire for abandoning his vessel while thousands of passengers scrambled for rescue has reportedly come up with an explanation for his flight - he accidentally tripped and fell into a lifeboat.

Jailed since the accident, Capt. Francesco Schettino appeared Tuesday before a judge in Grosseto, where he was questioned for three hours.

Several English-language newspapers have reported that, according to La Repubblica, Schettino testified that "the passengers were pouring on to the decks, taking the lifeboats by assault."

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"I didn't even have a life jacket because I had given it to one of the passengers. I was trying to get people to get into the boats in an orderly fashion. Suddenly, since the ship was at a 60 to 70 degree angle, I tripped and I ended up in one of the boats. That's how I found myself in the lifeboat."

"Suspended there, I was unable to lower the boat into the sea, because the space was blocked by other boats in the water."

The judge ordered him held under house arrest and Italian media reported he returned to his home near Naples. Federal prosecutors are planning to challenge that decision.

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Criminal charges including manslaughter and abandoning ship are expected to be filed by prosecutors in coming days. Schettino faces a possible 12 years in prison if convicted of the abandoning ship charge alone.

Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti, told a news conference in Grosetto that house arrest made sense given there was no evidence the captain intended to flee. He cited the fact that the captain coordinated the evacuation from the shore after leaving the ship.

"He never left the scene," Leporatti said. "There has never been a danger of flight."

Leporatti added the captain was upset by the accident, contrary to depictions in the Italian media that he did not appear to show regret.

"He is a deeply shaken man, not only for the loss of his ship, which for a captain is a grave thing, but above all for what happened and the loss of human life," the lawyer said.

Schettino's role in the disaster has been one of the main focal points since the Costa Concordia slammed into a reef Friday off the tiny Italian island of Giglio, leaving 11 dead and 21 missing. The cruise liner company has said that Schettino made an unauthorized maneuver, bringing the $450 million vessel too close to shore.

His absence from the ship during the rescue has gotten most of the attention.

In a dramatic phone conversation released Tuesday, a coast guard official was heard ordering the captain, who had abandoned the ship with his first officers, back on board to oversee the evacuation. But Schettino resisted the order, saying it was too dark and the ship was tipping dangerously.

"You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me?" Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco shouted as the Schettino sat safe in a life raft "It is an order. Don't make any more excuses. You have declared 'Abandon ship.' Now I am in charge."

"Listen Schettino," De Falco can be heard shouting in the audio tape. "There are people trapped on board. ... You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear?"

But Schettino resisted, saying the ship was listing and he was with his second-in-command in the lifeboat.

"I am here with the rescue boats. I am here. I am not going anywhere. I am here," he said. "I am here to coordinate the rescue."

"What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?" came the response.

Schettino said he was not refusing, but he still did not return to the ship, saying at one point: "Do you realize it is dark and here we can't see anything?"

De Falco shouted back: "And so what? You want to go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!"

The exchange also indicates that Schettino did not know anyone had died, with De Falco telling him at one point: "There are already bodies now, Schettino."

"How many bodies?" Schettino asks in a nervous tone.

"You are the one who has to tell me how many there are!" De Falco barks in response.

Schettino was finally heard on the tape agreeing to reboard. But the coast guard has said he never went back, and police arrested him on land several hours later.

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