At 5 this morning, Frank Hodes's eyes were filling with tears as he stood alone in the lobby of the Concorde Hotel.

"My wife's on the boat," he said, referring to the Italian liner Achille Lauro that was hijacked by Palestinians yesterday. "My sister's on the boat. Her husband. And my cousin."

He could not begin to imagine why this had happened to them on their Mediterranean holiday cruise. Hodes, of Springfield, N.J., was still wearing his "I love the Achille Lauro" button with its big red heart.

"My wife felt ill the night before," he said. When he and most of the rest of the passengers disembarked for a bus trip to the Pyramids, "she decided at the last minute not to join us."

Reporters wanted to know more about him and what happened.

"We don't have any answers," he said.

For many of the passengers lucky enough to have left the boat, there remained throughout the day this sense of inexplicable fate and disbelief.

The Achille Lauro, owned by a year-old Italian company in partnership with the Greek Chandris Line, had sailed from Genoa on Thursday with 753 passengers and 331 crew, according to Gaedano Cafiero, a company spokesman.

There were Italians, French and a sampling of most other European nationalities, several South Americans, two Israelis and 82 U.S. citizens, according to the sometimes contradictory manifests pored over today by diplomats and journalists.

The people aboard were families and honeymooners and, among the Americans especially, retired couples out to see the world.

Most disembarked at Alexandria for the Cairo tour that was billed as the high point of the ship's 12-day trip down the Italian coast to Egypt and then to Israel. Only 119 passengers are believed to have stayed on board. Of those, 16 are thought to be Americans.

One, a New Yorker, recently had a stroke and is in a wheelchair, cared for by his wife. Another is an elderly woman with a heart condition from Hollywood, Fla., who was traveling with three of her friends. One stayed behind to take care of her.

Among many of the passengers taken to the Concorde and Ramses Hilton hotels before dawn this morning, there was a lingering fear that something else dreadful might happen.

Anita Rosenthal and her husband Louis of Tamarac, Fla., had lived abroad, she said, "and we love traveling. But I tell you as far as I'm concerned there are crazies walking around and normal people can't cope with them."

"Maybe it's time to stay home," she said.

There were special worries for those passengers still aboard who were Jewish or had what might be construed as Jewish-sounding names. Some were thought to have diplomatic passports that might single them out for abuse.

The two Israelis, however, were lucky enough to have joined the pyramids tour. By nightfall, according to their embassy, they had returned home.

But in Cairo, those who had left loved ones on board remained visibly shattered.

Daniella Cappellaro, from Padua, Italy, had come on the trip with her mother and her two children: 5-year-old Fabricio and 4-year-old Valentina.

"I left the kids with my mother because yesterday was such a busy day and the children are very young," she said at the Concorde this morning.

She talked quietly, almost without emotion. "I am devastated," she said.

For his wife's 50th birthday, Hugo Berglas of Zurich, Switzerland, decided to take her on a holiday cruise. Now four days away from her birthday, Anette Berglas is at sea in the hands of the Palestinians threatening to kill their hostages if their demands are not met.

She had a slight case of bronchitis yesterday, but insisted that her husband should see the pyramids.

Berglas, like the rest, learned what had happened as he sat in a bus after midnight in Port Said waiting for the ship that never showed.

"At first I thought, it cannot be true," said the husband of 31 years, the father of four children. "Then I realized it must be true.

"I can do absolutely nothing, and that's why I feel a little crazy now," he added, wiping perspiration from his forehead. "I can do nothing for my wife."

Like Berglas, Werner Diggleman was smoking heavily and keeping to himself in a meeting room of the Ramses Hilton. His brother Gugen and sister-in-law Rosemarie remained aboard.

"I hope nobody will lose their nerves on the ship and do something extreme," he said.

Doctors in the hotels checked blood pressure and filled prescriptions for the many people whose medicines were left on the ship. Solicitous diplomats and employes of the cruise line tried to calm anxieties and push phone calls through jammed switchboards.

"They're doing absolutely beautifully," Hans Winkler, the Austrian charge d'affaires here, said of passengers he had seen. "Of course, they know that they are the lucky ones."

But few of those with relatives aboard could think of themselves that way. Rumors circulated that the boat was on course to Libya -- others said Beirut -- and the names rang a familiar chord of horror.

Frank Hodes quit talking to reporters. In the late afternoon the Concorde lobby was full of people, some of them in swimsuits trotting back and forth to the pool, making the best of a bad day. But Hodes was still alone.