Capsized ship survivors tell harrowing stories

Passengers of the Costa Concordia talk of the moments before and after the ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany.
CBS News

Almost exactly three months shy of the Titanic centennial, the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground late Friday night off a small island near the coast of Tuscany just north of Rome. At least three people are known dead and dozens more still unaccounted for.

The fear and panic among the passengers was just as real. CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey has some of their stories.

Passengers had just sat down to dinner when they heard a loud bang.

The impact tore a 160-foot gash in the hull, and an eight-day Mediterranean cruise turned into what some passengers described as "scenes from the movie 'Titanic.'"

With water pouring in, the Costa Concordia began to list. The Lukes family from Girdwood, Alaska knew it was time to go.

"The boat was listing," said Nate Lukes. "There's water coming on board, there's something wrong if it's tipping like that. So we went to the high side. But that was chaotic in the hallways, people with lifejackets on, the power was out."

A least they were on the side of the ship where they could get off, but the only way down was a rope ladder.

"People were panicking and yelling and pushing," said Cary Lukes. "They wanted to be the first on the lifeboat. We didn't get on the first lifeboats and then they were gone and there we stood."

The ship appears to have struck a reef. Some passengers decided their only chance was to jump into the dark freezing cold sea.

Mark Plath, his wife Sarah, and her brother Justin Baines were among them.

Cruise ship runs aground off Italy, 3 dead
Fact sheet: The Costa Concordia cruise liner

"The ship starting moving very fast," said Mark Plath,"and so we knew we were going to be under quick. And so we just started jumping and there were 200 people that jumped and swam a 100 meters to rocks and we got up on the shore."

"And it's a good thing we did," said Sarah Plath, "because the part which is now under water is where were standing."

"You were standing on the part that's now under water?" asked Pizzey.

"Yes, yes, yes," said all three. "Very far under water," said Mark.

They clung to rocks until rescuers could reach them.

"We had little beacons on our life vests, which were blinking," said Mark Plath. "But we just waited and waited."

Most of the passengers ended up in nearby Porto Santo Stefano.

The rescue operation included lifeboats, helicopters and ferries, which make daily runs from the mainland to the island of Giglio where the cruise ship finally ran aground. There was no time to salvage belongings -- most arrived in what they had been wearing when the ship started to go down.

Nine-year-old Isabel Lukes and six-year-old Molly Lukes were in their pajamas.

"Lucy lost her tooth on the ladder," said Cary Lukes, referring to young family member Lucy.

"I caught it in my mouth," said Lucy.

As many as forty of the more than 4,000 passengers and crew remain unaccounted for. Divers will start searching the submerged hull again in the morning and the captain has been detained.