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Couple rescued 24 hours after cruise ship capsizes off Italy

Gregorio Borgia / AP

Rocks emerge from the damaged side of the Costa Concordia.

Updated 9:54 p.m. ET: Two survivors of a cruise ship grounding who were found nearly a day after the ship rolled onto its side have been identified as a South Korean couple on their honeymoon.

Prato fire commander Vincenzo Bennardo told The Associated Press that rescuers who had been banging on doors of the ship cabins all night finally heard a reply from one of the rooms early Sunday. He said the two, about 29 years old, were in good condition. He said the rescuers never stopped going door-to-door during the night in the non-submerged part of the ship.

The Costa Concordia hit a reef during dinner Friday and capsized off Tuscany, forcing the evacuation of about 4,200 people. Three bodies were found and about 40 people remained unaccounted for.

Updated 6:55 p.m. ET: Rescue workers found two people still alive on a capsized Italian cruise ship, state television reported Sunday, according to Reuters.

The Italian news agency ANSA quoted rescuers as saying the two survivors were found in good condition in a cabin late Saturday and were being brought out.

Fire officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment near the tiny island of Giglio, where the Costa Concordia went aground and turned on its side Friday night, leaving three people dead and forcing some 4,000 aboard to evacuate.

Firefighters on the ship had heard the voices of a man and a woman several decks below where they were searching.

More than 4,200 passengers were aboard the Costa Concordia when it apparently struck rocks near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, ripping a hole in its hull and forcing thousands to escape in a chaotic, terrifying evacuation.

Three bodies have been recovered and authorities said late Saturday that about 40 people were still unaccounted for.

Updated 5:55 p.m. ET: The captain of the 4,200-pasenger luxury cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Tuscany has been detained, authorities said Saturday.

Francesco Schettino is being investigated for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, police said, according to Reuters. He was taken to a jail in the provincial capital Grosseto to await questioning by a magistrate.

Three bodies were recovered from the sea after the Costa Concordia ran aground near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, ripping a hole in its hull and forcing thousands to escape in a chaotic, terrifying evacuation. Some 40 people are still unaccounted for.

Experts have questioned how Schettino, the 52-year-old captain with 11 years working for the ship's owner, could hit so close to the island of Giglio given Italy's well mapped sea lanes.

Panic ensues after a luxury cruise ship dubbed the "Floating Temple of Fun" runs aground off Italy. NBC's Claudio Lavanga reports.

The chief prosecutor in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, Francesco Verusio, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as telling reporters that the captain "very ineptly got close to Giglio," The Associated Press reported.

"The ship struck a reef that got stuck inside the left side, making it (the ship) lean over and take on a lot of water in the space of two, three minutes," he said.

Schettino was at the command, and it was "he who ordered the route, that's what it appears to us. It was a deliberate" choice to follow that route, ANSA quote him as saying.

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Slideshow: Luxury ship runs aground

It quoted Schettino's lawyer, Bruno Leporatti as saying his client understands why he was being detained but that "as his defender, I'd like to say that several hundred people owed their life to the expertise that the commander of the Costa Concordia showed during the emergency."

ANSA quoted Francesco Schettino's sister, Giulia, as saying her brother called their mother, 80-year-old Rosa, at 5 in the morning, saying "Mamma, there has been a tragedy. But stay calm. I tried to save the passengers. But for a while, I won't be able to phone you."

Schettino hails from Meta di Sorrento, in the Naples area where many of Italy's ferry and cruise boat captains are from. Giulia Schettino was quoted by ANSA as saying that he also asked to speak to his brother, Salvatore, who also is a sailor, to tell him what happened aboard.

ANSA reported Schettino was taken to Grosseto's jail, to be held until next week, when a judge will decide whether he should be released or formally put under arrest. The courthouse was closed late Saturday and couldn't be reached.

In Italy, suspects can be held without charge for a few days for investigation. A judge must either validate the jailing, putting the suspect under arrest, or declare him free to go.

A U.S. State Department official says the latest estimate is that there were 126 Americans among the 4,200-plus people aboard the Costa Concordia. No Americans were injured, the official said.

This is the second fatal accident involving a Costa ship in the past two years. In February 2010, Costa Europa collided with a pier in Egypt, killing three crewmembers.


Updated 1:35 p.m. ET:
Italian authorities were questioning the captain of the 4,200-passenger luxury cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, CNN reports.

Authorities want to know why the ship didn't issue a mayday call during the accident near the Italian island of Giglio on Friday night, according to the report.

"At the moment we can't exclude that the ship had some kind of technical problem, and for this reason moved towards the coast in order to save the passengers, the crew and the ship. But they didn't send a mayday," said officer Emilio Del Santo of the Coastal Authorities of Livorno, accordng to CNN. "The ship got in contact with us once the evacuation procedures were already ongoing."

The captain, Francesco Schettino, was being interviewed by investigators, Del Santo said.

Three bodies have been recovered and 70 people are still unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, Costa Cruises, the company that runs the ship, has issued a statement that reads in part:

"On the basis of the initial evidence - still preliminary - Costa Concordia, under the command of Master Francesco Schettino, was sailing its regularly scheduled itinerary from Civitavecchia to Savona, Italy, when the ship struck a submerged rock.

"Captain Schettino, who was on the bridge at the time, immediately understood the severity of the situation and performed a maneuver intended to protect both guests and crew, and initiated security procedures to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation.

"Unfortunately, that operation was complicated by a sudden tilting of the ship that made disembarkation difficult.

 Original story:

PORTO SANTO STEFANO, Italy -- Survivors from a luxury cruise ship that ran aground and tipped over in shallow waters off the coast of Tuscany on Saturday recounted scenes of chaos, with frightened passengers crawling along upended hallways and some leaping into the sea trying to reach safety.

"Have you seen 'Titanic?' That's exactly what it was," said Valerie Ananias, 31, a schoolteacher from Los Angeles who was traveling with her sister and parents on the first of two cruises around the Mediterranean. They all bore dark red bruises on their knees from the desperate crawl they endured along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells, trying to reach rescue boats.

Three bodies were recovered from the sea after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the tiny island of Giglio near the coast of Tuscany late Friday, tearing a 160-foot gash in its hull and sending in a rush of water. Italian news agency ANSA said the dead were two French passengers and a Peruvian crewman.

Up to 70 people were still unaccounted for Saturday among the more than 4,300 passengers and crew who were on board, the Italian coast guard said.

Cmmdr. Cosimo Nicastro, spokesman for the Italian coast guard, told Sky TG24 TV there were no firm indications that anyone was trapped inside the ship. But he noted rescuers carried out an extensive search of the waters near the ship for hours and "we would have seen bodies."

He said it's possible those unaccounted for "might be is in the belly of the ship."

NBC's Claudio Lavanga reports.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome estimated 100 Americans may have been on board. There were no reports of serious injuries to Americans, based on information provided by local officials.

By Saturday morning, the ship was lying virtually flat off Giglio's coast, its starboard side submerged in the water and the huge gash showing clearly on its upturned hull.

Nicastro said divers will continue to search for survivors for the next two or three days. It's a dangerous operation because the ship could sink another 230 feet, he said.

Passengers who escaped complained the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate and once the emergency became clear, delayed lowering the lifeboats until the ship was listing too heavily for many of them to be released.

Passengers: 'Unorganized' crew, no evacuation drills
Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Connecticut, who had set out on the cruise of the Mediterranean hours earlier, called the entire trip "unorganized" from the start.

"It was so unorganized. Our evacuation drill was [not] scheduled [until] 5 p.m." said. "We had joked, 'What if something had happened today?'"

"We were crawling up a hallway, in the dark, with only the light from the life vest strobe flashing," said Ananias'  mother, Georgia Ananias, 61. "We could hear plates and dishes crashing, people slamming against walls."

She choked up as she recounted the moment when an Argentine couple handed her their 3-year-old daughter, unable to keep their balance as the ship lurched to the side and the family found themselves standing on a wall. "He said 'take my baby,'" Georgia Ananias said, covering her mouth with her hand as she teared up. "I grabbed the baby. But then I was being pushed down. I didn't want the baby to fall down the stairs. I gave the baby back. I couldn't hold her.

"I thought that was the end and I thought they should be with their baby," she said.

Stringer/ Reuters

Passengers arrive at Porto Santo Stefano after a cruise ship ran aground

Passenger Maria Parmegiano Alfonsi told Sky Italia television that they were "sitting down to dinner and we heard this big bang."

"I think it hit some rocks. There was a lot of panic, the tables overturned, glasses were flying all over the place and we ran for the decks where we put on our lifevests," she said.

"We had a blackout and everybody was just screaming. All the passengers were running up and down and then we went to our cabins to get to know what is going on," said another passenger, who did not give his name.

"They said we should stay calm, it is nothing, it's just some electrical problem or just some blackout thing," the man added.

Helicopters plucked to safety some people who were trapped on the ship, some survivors were rescued by boats in the area, and witnesses said some people jumped from the ship into the dark, cold sea.

Passengers Alan and Laurie Willits from Wingham, Ontario, celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, said they were watching the magic show in the ship's main theater when they felt an inital lurch, as if from a severe steering maneuver, followed a few seconds later by a "shudder" that tipped trash cans over. The subsequent listing of the ship made the theater curtains seem like they were standing on their side.

"And then the magician disappeared," Laurie Willits said, and panicked audience members fled for their cabins as well.

Once at their life boat station, crew members directed passengers to go upstairs from the fourth floor deck; Alan Willits said he refused.

"I said 'No, this isn't right.' And I came out and I argued, 'When you get this boat stabilized, I'll go up to the fifth floor then," he said. Eventually, his lifeboat was lowered down.

But things didn't improve for passengers once they were on safe ground.

"No one counted us, neither in the lifeboats nor on land," said Ophelie Gondelle, 28, a French military officer from Marseille. She said there had been no evacuation drill since she boarded in Marseille, France on Jan. 8.

The evacuees were taking refuge in schools, hotels, and a church on Giglio, a popular vacation isle about 18 miles off Italy's central west coast.

Passengers sat dazed in a middle school opened for them, wrapped in wool or aluminum blankets, with some wearing their life preservers and their shoeless feet covered with aluminum foil. Civil protection crews served them warm tea and bread, but confusion reigned supreme as passengers tried desperately to find the right bus to begin their journey home.

Tanja Berto, from Ebenfurth, Austria, was shuttled from one line to another with her mother and 2-year-old son Bruno, trying to figure out how to get back to Savona, where they began their cruise a week ago.

"It's his birthday today," she said of her son, rolling her eyes as she held Bruno and tended to her mother, who had grown faint and was lying on the ground. "Happy birthday, Bruno."

The island's mayor, Sergio Ortelli, issued an appeal for islanders — "anyone with a roof" — to open their homes to shelter the evacuees.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo said the exact circumstances of the accident were still unclear, but that the first alarm went off about 10:30 p.m., about three hours after the Concordia had begun its voyage from the port of Civitavecchia, en route to its first port of call, Savona, in northwestern Italy.

Paolillo, speaking from the port captain's office in the Tuscan port of Livorno, said the vessel "hit an obstacle" — it wasn't clear if it might have hit a rocky reef in the waters off Giglio — "ripping a gash 50 meters (160 feet) across" in the side of the ship, and started taking on water.

The cruise liner's captain, Paolillo said, then tried to steer his ship toward shallow waters, near Giglio's small port, to make evacuation by lifeboat easier. But after the ship started listing badly, lifeboat evacuation was no longer feasible, Paolillo said, so authorities dispatched helicopters.

Costa Cruises said the Costa Concordia was sailing on a cruise across the Mediterranean Sea, starting from Civitavecchia with scheduled calls to Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.

The Concordia had a previous accident in Italian waters, ANSA reported. In 2008, when strong winds buffeted Palermo, the cruise ship banged against the Sicilian port's dock, and suffered damage but no one was injured, ANSA said.

NBC News, The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this story.

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