Hundreds of people were still aboard the Costa Concordia when the commander fled in a lifeboat, an Italian coast guard official testified Monday, adding that rescuers received first word of the seriousness of the shipwreck only after a passenger used a cellphone to call family.

Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco became a national hero after repeatedly ordering Francesco Schettino, the commander on trial in Grosseto, Tuscany, to return to the badly listing vessel.

Schettino is charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship, and of causing the 2012 shipwreck by sailing too close to the Tuscan island of Giglio. Thirty-two people died.

De Falco testified the Concordia sent out its first distress signal 53 minutes after the Jan. 13 collision. Until then, he said, the ship's officers insisted the ship had only suffered a power blackout. - AP