Inside the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad the air was emotionally charged on Thursday, when crew members from the star-crossed luxury liner Costa Concordia arrived home into anxious hugs of near and dear ones.

Smiles, sobs and squeezing embraces awaited the seven crew members from the city who escaped from the ship that ran aground off the Italian coast on Friday. Two more members are expected to arrive on Friday.

The vessel had 4,200 people on board, and at least 11 are suspected to have been killed in the incident. The search for missing persons is on, even as the ship is sinking bit by bit.

Three hundred Indians worked on the ship, of who, nine were from Hyderabad. They had all joined the kitchen crew a year ago after completing their course in Hotel Management from the Culinary Academy of India, Begumpet.

After alighting from the Emirates flight at about 8 p.m., the crew members Jonathan Paturi, Srinu Reddy, Suresh Chari, B. Srikanth Yadav, Ravikumar Dharani, Shashidhar, and Ramesh Babu were greeted by excited family members who burst into tears on seeing them. Garlands and flower bouquets, apart from squeals of joy animated the vicinity for a while.

They were all flown down from Rome with a transit halt of eight hours in Dubai. The Ministry of External Affairs in co-ordination with the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs organised their return. They did not get a hero's welcome for nothing back home. If not for their swift response in the moment of crisis, many lives would have been lost.

“When the incident happened, we were on the third deck. As we came to know of what was happening, we ran to the fourth deck and immediately got into rescue operations,” recalled Jonathan Paturi whose family stays in Moulali.

Each crew member had one life boat capacious enough to carry 100 passengers. Jonathan recounts that he must have led at least 450 passengers to safety by ferrying them in round trips to the island nearby. Though many lost valuables in the haste that ensued, Costa, the company which owned the cruise liner promised to dispatch whichever valuables it could salvage from the wreck.

All crew members are on a three-month furlough after which they will have to report for duty. However, family members vehemently refuse to send them back.

“It is nothing less than rebirth for my son. His escape was miraculous. How can I send him back after this? It is not possible,” says Indira, mother of Srikanth Yadav who stays in Chandulal Baradari.