ROME – The remains of American and German couples who died when the Costa Concordia capsized near a Tuscan island have been identified, several weeks after the bodies were found in the wreck of the cruise ship, Italian authorities said Tuesday.
The Prefect's office from the Tuscan town of Grosseto, where the bodies were brought, also announced the identification of a fifth body, that of an Italian crewman from aboard the Italian luxury liner which struck a reef off the island of Giglio on Jan. 13 and capsized. Thirty-two people died, including two people whose bodies still haven't been found.
The two U.S. victims — the only Americans who died in the accident — were identified as Barbara and Gerald Heil of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Also identified were Christina Mathi Ganz and Norbert Josef Ganz of Muehlheim am Main of Germany, and Giuseppe Girolamo, the crew member. The German couple had just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
John Heil, a son of the U.S. couple, said the family was declining to say anything about the identification when contacted by phone by The Associated Press. The U.S. Embassy in Rome, citing privacy concerns, declined to discuss plans for the transport of the Heils' remains.
But the Embassy website posted a message of condolence.
"We are grateful for the skill and courage of the Italian search teams who made such an effort to first rescue and then recover remains of the victims," the message said. "The entire U.S. Embassy would like to once again extend its condolences to the Heil family and to the friends and families of all the victims of this tragedy."
Weather and sea conditions permitting, divers continue 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 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.
In the Heils' hometown, friends expressed relief to hear that the bodies of the couple have been identified. The couple were well known as active members of the local church.
Gerald Heil would visit local woman Diane Vorland, confined to a wheelchair, every Thursday to bring communion and pray. And he drove a local man, Denny Hardy, on errands after the man lost his driver's license.
Vorland said Tuesday that it's good news the Heils have been identified after so long, and that the news should give closure to the family.
Hardy said it's nice knowing that the Heils are now safely in the hands of God.
Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.