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Survivors of ferry wreck recall a horrible night of terror and tragedy

Stamatis Kotsornithis, 34, was a passenger on the Express Samina ferry that sank on the night of September 26, 2000, after colliding with the Portes islets off the Aegean island of Paros, killing 80 passengers and crew members. «Every time I board a ship, I immediately look around for the best place to jump off it,» he told Kathimerini, remembering the terrible experience. «That night everyone panicked. When the ship hit the rocks, I was in a hallway near the purser’s office. I heard a dull thud and went toward the deck where a woman gave me a life vest. There wasn’t a second to spare. If you didn’t have good reflexes or luck on your side you were lost,» he recalled. «Most people not only panicked but lost their senses. Do you know what it means to shake people by the shoulders because they are frozen in place? I jumped into the sea with two other people who didn’t have life vests. A girl who had panicked grabbed onto us. At one point, I just breathed mechanically. My mind was almost numb. Then we were picked up by a fishing boat.» Apart from the emotional pain he has suffered, Kotsornithis says he has reassessed his outlook on life and deals with daily problems more stoically. «Life is like the blink of an eye. You can lose everything, or be lost yourself, in a single moment. That is why it isn’t worth getting upset over unimportant things,» he says. Maria Mytilinaiou was one of the lucky ones, but she still experiences fear and panic, haunted by her memories of that night and the loss of loved ones who were traveling with her. She has stopped traveling by ship and even has trouble with other means of transportation. «I still haven’t recovered. I’m driving my family mad. I take sleeping pills but still have nightmares. I lost two relatives that night. At the moment of the collision, I was next to my cousin and we jumped into the sea together but she must have injured herself somehow and drowned. The next day I looked for her name on the list of survivors. Two hours later I recognized her body. Words can’t express what I felt,» she said. All the survivors are eternally grateful to those who endangered their own lives to save them. Stavros Arelis, owner of a tour boat from the island of Lefkada, helped save about 30 people from the Samina. «I had taken a tour group to Paros, when at around 10.25 p.m., the port police notified me that the Express Samina had foundered. We put the tourists ashore at Paroikia and set a course for Cape Fokas. We reached the Samina about a quarter of an hour afterward. It was completely dark. the only light was that coming from the boats in the area. It was very difficult to move as we didn’t want to hit anyone. We drifted for about an hour and a half, throwing lifelines to people and pulling them in. I try not to remember those five or six hours. It took us about a year to get over it. Watching people drown and not being able to save them all. We saw a mother and her child being washed away by a wave. Sometimes I go to Paros and as I pass the Portes, I throw a flower into the sea where the ship sank.»