GIGLIO ISLAND, Italy – Sitting on a hotel terrace perched on a hill on the island of Giglio, Elio Vincenzi looks out towards the deep blue horizon. He knows that somewhere out there is the body of his wife Maria Grazia Trecarichi, one of the two victims of the Costa Concordia shipwreck yet to be found.
"Sometimes I wonder if she has been swept out to sea by the currents and will never be found again,” he said on Thursday, two days after the cruise liner was rolled back upright in an unprecedented feat of engineering.
It was difficult to see through his dark sunglasses if he considered that the worst case scenario or wishful thinking.
A local couple walked by and wished him good luck. Since the Concordia sank in January 2012, he has returned to the island countless times, hoping to return to his small hometown in Sicily with his wife's remains.
To the thousand permanent residents of this tiny, usually sleepy island, he has become an honorary citizen. But seeing the Concordia re-emerge from the depths like a ghost ship, has turned back the clock to that fatal, tragic night.
"After the Concordia hit the reef, my wife and my daughter were calmly lining up to get on a lifeboat,” he said slowly. Vincenzi was not on the boat that fateful night; his wife was on the cruise with her daughter as a 50th birthday gift. But he slowly repeated the last moments of her life as if it helped him keep her memory alive.
"Then she realized their cabin was on the same bridge, not too far from there. She was wearing a night-gown, and it was a freezing January night. So she told my daughter she would pop into the room to grab a jacket, and would be back soon.”
She never returned, and became one of the 32 victims of the maritime tragedy.
"I don't know what happened next. I will never know,” he sighed. "Yesterday I was taken around the starboard side on a boat, and realized the coast was only a few feet away. My wife was a good swimmer, so I think she must have been hit unconscious by falling debris from the upper decks.”
But it's not only seeing the Concordia finally upright and the resumption of the search for his wife's body that is making this trip to the island especially emotional. Vincenzi's daughter, 18-year-old Stefania, agreed to return to Giglio with him for the first time since leaving her mother on the Concordia's bridge.
This time, he said, she felt she had to be there.
"She always refused to come back. It has been very hard on her.” Despite being used to the cameras, being a beautiful, aspiring Miss Italy contestant, Stefania has tried to stay away from the media since her arrival on the island.
On Wednesday she sat at a table at one of the local bars, and looked out to the Concordia and its two, contradicting sides. The rusty, muddy, dark starboard side, looking like it barely survived a violent bombing, and the clean, white right-hand side, a reminder of how beautiful the cruise liner was before the accident.
"She was fine, but all those questions from journalists brought back painful memories,” Vincenzi said.
Next week, the trial against the Concordia’s Captain Francesco Schettino will resume in the mainland town of Grosseto. But while the rest of the world seems to hold him accountable for the shipwreck and the deaths of over 30 passengers and crew, Vincenzi surprisingly sent him a lifeline.
"I am not so sure he was single-handedly responsible for this tragedy. There were many officers in the captain bridge that night; I can't believe that none of them realized they were sailing right into the island.”
A team of divers from the Italian navy dressed in military uniforms arrived on the island on Thursday morning with a hyperbaric chamber.
As early as Thursday evening they are expected to dive back into the doomed water around the cruise ship hoping to return the remains of Maria Grazia Trecarichi to her husband and daughter.