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Immigrant Horror: 25 Killed On Crowded Boat Were Forced To Suffocate Below

Survivors say the boat stranded off the Italian island of Lampedusa had absolutely no room on deck. Bodies of victims were found in the hold below, and showed signs of struggle.

Migrants arriving on island of Lampedusa
Migrants arriving on island of Lampedusa

Worldcrunch NEWS BITES

LAMPEDUSA - The latest horror story off the coast of this tiny Italian island is somehow more awful than the rest. Of the innumerable migrants trying to make the seaward journey from North Africa to Lampedusa, and a hoped-for ticket into Europe, perhaps tens of thousands have died over the past decade. Yet these latest 25 deaths tell the all too familiar tale with a chilling new twist.

The 24 men and one woman were found early Monday in the tiny hold of a boat that had left from Tripoli, Libya, carrying almost 300 immigrants. Authorities believe they died from asphyxiation.

At first, when the Italian Coast Guard rescued the boat 35 miles off of Lampedusa, they found 271 people alive, squeezed one on the top of the other up on deck, with everyone apparently safe. "I checked the hold, to see if there was someone else. Then I saw them. It was terrible," said a member of the rescue team.

How did it happen? Lampedusa doctor Pietro Bartòlo was the first to notice bruises and fractures on many of the bodies. Authorities went on to conclude that the 25 fought to escape from the cramped quarters in which they'd been squeezed.

Survivors have confirmed the sequence of events. "They screamed, banged against the trap-door, begged to get out," says one of the survivors. "But on the deck, there was no room." Another woman survivor, who was carried to the emergency room for dehydration, said there was no alternative. "Where could they have stayed? We were already packed in."

According to Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the bodies "presented clear signs of violence." Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Drowning, thirst and exposure are typically what claim the most victims when these immigrant boats stall in the sea. Arrivals have spiked after the unrest this year in North Africa. The blog Fortress Europe has tallied 1,674 people who have died or disappeared in the waters between North Africa and Italy in 2011.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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