WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. (AP) – The family of a Minnesota couple who died when a cruise ship capsized in January are thanking the Italian rescue and recovery crew that found them.
Italian authorities announced Tuesday that the remains of Gerald and Barbara Heil, of White Bear Lake, have been identified as two of the five bodies recovered from the Costa Concordia several weeks ago.
The Heil family issued a statement saying they can now move forward and bring their parents home to rest. And they say their hearts and prayers go out to the two families that are still missing loved ones.
The family also expressed thanks for the support they’ve received from friends, colleagues, neighbors, family and loved ones, as well as people they never met who’ve sent words of encouragement and prayers.
Friends of the Heils say they’re relieved to hear the bodies of Barbara and Gerald Heil finally have been identified.
The White Bear Lake couple were active members of St. Pius the X Catholic Church and were known for their service to others.
Jerry Heil would visit Diane Vorland, who is confined to a wheelchair, every Thursday to bring her communion and recite the rosary. And he would drive Denny Hardy on errands after Hardy lost his license.
Vorland says it’s good news that the Heils finally have been identified after so long, and that the news should give closure to the family.
Hardy says it’s nice knowing that the Heils are now safely in the hands of God.
Weather and sea conditions permitting, divers have been searching for the last missing passenger, an Italian woman, and an Indian crewman. Both are presumed dead.
The Italian captain of the Concordia is under house arrest in his home near Naples while prosecutors investigate him and other ship and cruise line officials. Capt. Francesco Schettino is being investigated for alleged manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all the 4,200 passengers and crew aboard it were evacuated.
Prosecutors have said that they suspect the captain deliberately steered his ship too close to Giglio island in a publicity stunt. The Concordia’s hull was gashed by the rocky reef. Schettino insists the reef wasn’t marked on the ship’s navigational charts and denies that he abandoned ship, saying he continued to direct the evacuation.
In audio registrations between Schettino and Italian coast guard officials, the captain appears to repeatedly resist pleas to go back aboard the ship and help carry out the evacuation.
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