A 72-year-old Argentine judge said she managed to survive the shipwreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in the Tyrrhenian Sea by jumping off the vessel and swimming several meters (yards) to the coast of the Italian island of Giglio.

"There was nothing I could do except jump in the sea. I plunged in with 30 or 40 other people because we were all left without lifeboats," Judge Maria Ines Lona told the press at Ezeiza International Airport outside Buenos Aires.

The judge came home on a flight from Italy with her two daughters, also passengers on the cruise.

She and her daughters arrived with other Argentine passengers from the vessel that capsized Friday night in the Tyrrhenian Sea, leaving six people dead.

It wasn't an act of heroism but of survival. As I swam away the cruise ship was tipping over more and more, and I was afraid that if I went back it would swallow me.

- Maria Ines Lona, 72-Yr-Old Judge

"A group of us who were left without lifeboats walked back to the stern, the closest place to the breakwater on the coast. We were already hanging over the side when I heard the ship crack," the juvenile court magistrate from the western province of Mendoza said.

The woman recalled that a Spaniard encouraged her to jump into the "cold, clear" water, and said she only took with her the life jacket, a coat, and shoes to keep from cutting her feet on the rocks.

"It wasn't an act of heroism but of survival. As I swam away the cruise ship was tipping over more and more, and I was afraid that if I went back it would swallow me," the judge said, describing the tragedy in which 16 people are still missing.

Lona's daughters Maria Silvina and Maria Valeria Avalos, one of them disabled, managed to get on a lifeboat and found their mother, after believing her drowned or on another boat

Lona, who compared the scene with the sinking of the Titanic, said that her first warning about what was going on was when she heard "a loud bang and everything went dark."

"They told us there was an electricity problem but not to worry about it, we could all get on the lifeboats. But suddenly an alarm went off and we were told to go to Bridge 4 where the boats were. The captain never spoke, his attitude was one of terror," she said.

All 18 passengers of Argentine nationality on the cruise emerged safe and sound, officials said.

The president and CEO of Carnival Corp's Costa Crociere cruise company, Pier Luigi Foschi, admitted Monday that the shipwreck was due to "human error" on the part of Capt. Francesco Schettino, currently under arrest and in jail, who "took an initiative of his own will which is contrary to our written rules of conduct." 

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