LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AP) — Deep sea divers "unpacked a wall of people" from the hull of a smuggler's trawler on the sea floor near this Italian island on Monday, gingerly untangling the dead would-be migrants in the latest and most painstaking phase of a recovery operation following their ship's fiery capsizing.
It was the first time the divers had been able to reach the hull, and authorities said 38 more bodies were recovered, raising the death toll from last Thursday's tragedy to 232. Scores more are believed missing; most, if not all, were Eritreans trying to reach Europe in search of asylum and a better life.
"They unpacked a wall of people," said Navy Capt. Paolo Trucco of the deep sea specialists. The bodies "were so entwined, one with the other, it is indescribable. They were so trapped they were difficult to pull out."
Deep sea divers in their weighted suits and sturdy port-holed helmets were able to spend up to 30 minutes at a time at the site of the wreck 47 meters (154 feet) below the surface — much more than a scuba diver's typical seven to 10 minutes at that depth.
This allowed them to remove debris that was still floating around inside narrow passage ways to reach the vessel's hull. "Mattresses, blankets, stairs. Anything that would float. Imagine if you put a house in a centrifuge and you see what winds up in the air. That is what happened," Trucco said.
Diver Marco Presti said the bodies were packed together when the ship capsized, and he and his colleagues had to pull each out by the arms. "One diver after the other, we passed them from one to the other, and placed them on the stern of the boat," he said.
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