RALEIGH, N.C. — A group of Triangle high school students were on their way home from Greece on Friday after their cruise ship sank, but a second group missed a flight and had no new way out of Athens, parents said.
The company that arranged the tours said, however, "We believe that everyone should be able to fly home tomorrow."
EF Educational Tours said 128 North Carolina high school students and adults were aboard the cruise liner Sea Diamond when it struck a reef Thursday in a lagoon just off the Greek island of Santorini.
All except two passengers escaped safely, and divers were searching for those two—a Frenchman and his daughter. The ship's owner, Louis Cruise Lines, said 1,153 passengers and 391 crew members had been on the ship.
The students, who included students from four Triangle-area high schools, lost their luggage when the liner went under.
"We have sent staff from our European headquarters in Lucerne, and we also had staff in addition to our tour directors on the cruise. Those staff are ensuring that everyone is taken care of while they are waiting for their flights. We have arranged hotel accommodation and meals for the groups while they are in Athens," EF spokeswoman Lori van Dam said from EF Tours' office in Cambridge, Mass.
One group of students from Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School was expected to arrive at Raleigh-Durham Airport late Saturday afternoon, Raleigh resident David Falk said. He said his wife, Jennifer, had reached him about 4 a.m. Friday to say that she and their daughter, Maggie, were coming home. Jennifer Falk is a teacher at Southeast and was with a group of freshman history students and some parents.
The group has six adults and 12 students, David Falk said.
Another group of about 22 Chapel Hill High School students were aboard the ship as part of a trip arranged by English teacher Anne Thompson, said Stephanie Knott, spokeswoman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. The trip wasn't sponsored by the high school or the district, she said.
That group was among passengers who missed their flight Friday morning and were stranded in Athens because other flights were full for the Easter holiday, said Cindy Henry, whose daughter, Michaela, a senior, is among the travelers.
Deniece Land, whose son, David, is a senior at Middle Creek High School and was on the ship with a group of AP English students, was with the group stuck in Athens, she said. She said some students Apex High School also were on the ship.
The cruise line gave each of the people on the school tours 200 euros and had rescued their passports from the ship, the parents said.
“We are aware that there might be some students from Wake County aboard the ship, and we’re very glad that they appear to be OK. Since this is not a school system sanctioned activity, we have limited information about what is happening,” Chip Sudderth, a spokesman for the Wake County school system, said Thursday.
Officials with Apex High couldn't be reached for comment, and an official with Middle Creek High said the school wasn't sponsoring a trip to Greece.
A group of 77 students, parents and faculty from Paisley Magnet School in Winston-Salem also were on the ship, Forsyth County Schools officials said.
David Land called home on his cell phone Thursday morning to report that his room aboard the ship was underwater and that all of his belongings other than his phone and digital camera were gone, Deniece Land said.
"I said, 'Don't play with me,'" Deniece Land said, recalling the phone conversation. "I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'No, really. The ship is sinking, and I just got a life vest on.'"
When she agreed to allow her son to take his first trip abroad, they were more worried about the international flight than the time aboard the cruise ship.
David Land told WRAL in a cell phone interview that he was in the Sea Diamond's dining room when the ship hit the reef.
"First, we thought we were making a sharp turn. But then we saw people running up the stairs with life vests on, pushing people out of the way," Land said, adding that he didn't have time to go back to his room to grab his belongings. "My personal room is in the bottom corner of the ship, and that is where it started sinking. ... My stuff is pretty much gone, and you can see several bags floating."
Giorgos Stathopoulos, spokesman for Louis Cruise Lines, a Cyprus-based company that operates the 469-foot vessel said the ship had taken on water and listed 12 degrees but was stabilized when watertight doors were activated..
"All the passengers are off the ship safely, and everything is OK," Stathopoulos said.
Most of the passengers were from North America, with groups of U.S. college students on board, he said.
About half of the ship's passengers climbed down ladders to other ships, while the rest slid down inflated ramps, David Land said.
"Everybody was panicking, and only about one-third of the people on the ship spoke English," he said. "The name of the boat is underwater on one side, and you can see under the boat on the other side."
The cruise ship left the port of Piraeus on Monday for a five-day island cruise and was due back to Greece's main port on Friday, officials said. Before reaching Santorini, the ship had stopped at the Greek islands of Rhodes and Mykonos and the Turkish resort of Kusadasi.
Santorini's regional governor, Chrysanthos Roussis, said tugboats had been used to pull the ship free of rocks.
More than a dozen ships in the area were involved. Six navy rescue helicopters, two military transport plane and four warships also were been sent to the area, along with emergency medical crews.
Two ships were expected to arrive at Santorini by late Thursday to take the evacuated passengers back to the Greek mainland.
"Nobody has anything. You were lucky if you got your wallet," David Land said. "A lot of people, they had towels on. They were in showers."