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Costa Concordia search for missing Minnesota couple halted

January 31, 2012 | 11:21 am

The search for missing passengers aboard the Costa Concordia -- the cruise ship that capsized more than two weeks ago near the western coast of Italy -- has been suspended. Among the passengers yet to be found: a retired Minnesota couple, Gerald and Barbara Heil.

Italian emergency officials announced the development Tuesday, saying they were halting the search because it had become too dangerous for rescue workers. The search of late had been taking workers into the deeper, submerged recesses of the ship.

A spokeswoman for the Civil Protection agency, Francesca Maffini, said a search for the missing would continue wherever possible, including on the part of the ship above water, in the waters surrounding the ship and along the nearby coastline, according to the Associated Press.

Photos: Costa Concordia wreck

The agency said in a statement that relatives of the missing, along with diplomatic officials representing their respective countries, have been informed of the decision, AP reported.

All but 32 of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew have been accounted for in the wake of the accident, which occurred Jan. 13 when the cruise ship strayed into shallow water. Rocks tore a gash as wide as a football field into the side of the ship. It began taking on water and quickly capsized. Seventeen bodies have been recovered, but other people remain missing, including the Heils.

Gerald Heil, 69, and Barbara, 70, were devoted parishioners at the Church of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, Minn. Congregants there, as well as the Heils' four children, had been holding out hope for days that rescuers would help provide answers, and some measure of closure.

There was no immediate reaction from either the church or the Heil children, who have created a family blog to keep everyone posted on developments.

Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise and Costa Concordia management have infuriated survivors by offering them the equivalent of about $14,460 each as compensation. Six passengers have filed lawsuits in U.S. federal court in Miami seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, according to AP. A crew member has also filed a lawsuit in Chicago federal court seeking class-action status and at least $100 million in damages, it reported.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: The Costa Concordia cruise ship is seen off the coast of Isola del Giglio. Credit: Luca Zennaro / EPA