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Streetly teenager is hero on stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship

Walsall | News | Published:

A teenager from the West Midlands today told how he led a dramatic rescue of terrified passengers as chaos gripped the stricken Costa Concordia cruise liner.

A teenager from the West Midlands today told how he led a dramatic rescue of terrified passengers as chaos gripped the stricken Costa Concordia cruise liner.

Dancer James Thomas acted as a human climbing frame to help 16 passengers into lifeboats after the luxury £390 million liner ran aground off the Italian coast, before toppling on to its side in shallow waters.

The 19-year-old hero also led dozens of frightened holidaymakers to the lifeboat decks, only abandoning ship when a passenger forced him to leave with them.

His safe return to the family home in Streetly comes as the death toll from the disaster rose to six, after the body of a male passenger who had been wearing a life jacket was found.

Earlier coastguard divers discovered the bodies of two men, a 86-year-old Italian and a 68-year-old Spanish national, under water in the ship. Two French passengers and a Peruvian crewman also died in the disaster.

The cruise liner's owner Carnival Company has suggested there may have been "significant human error" by the captain Francesco Schettinoas with investigators looking into reports that he might have been "showing off" when he steered the vessel too close to rocks.

Speaking from his home in Whitethorn Crescent, James today spoke of the terrifying moment the ship hit rocks. Amid the chaos, the former Streetly School pupil used his 6ft 3in frame to bridge the gap between decks three and four, to help passengers get into lifeboats.

He said: "It was all very surreal at first. It felt like we were in a film."

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At first, the 19-year-old tried to make light of the situation before the terrifying reality of the situation sunk in.

"Me being me, I started doing an impression of Michael Jackson in the Smooth Criminal video where he's almost horizontal," he said.

"The ship was listing so much, our centre of gravity had completely shifted.

"Then it became more of a panic.

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"Our first officer came on to deck four and shouted for everyone to get over to the other side of the ship.

"We rehearse safety procedures every week but this was a different situation.

"We couldn't get the lifeboats off and the liferafts that the staff use were stuck to the side of the ship. It was frightening."

James quickly switched into professional mode, thinking of others before his own safety.

After helping dozens of passengers towards lifeboats, he was himself pulled towards a boat by two of the passengers.

"The last people I helped were a Frenchman and his disabled wife.

"He grabbed me by the cuff and pulled me into one of the boats."

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