TODAY   |  January 16, 2012

Crippled cruise survivors report ‘chaos,’ ‘panic’

TODAY’s Natalie Morales talks with the Ananias family, who were among the last to leave the grounded Costa Concordia, as they describe the chaos of the accident. NBC’s Michelle Kosinski reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> now to italy and the investigation into the deadly cruise ship disaster. a sixth body was found in the wreckage overnight as new details emerged over what may have been critical errors by the ship's captain. nbc's michelle kosinski is in porto santo stefano , italy. good morning.

>> reporter: from the beginning questions surrounded the captain. he was arrested, under investigation. now his employer said he made an unauthorized deviation in the ship's course bringing it too close to shore, then made mistakes handle it. investigators say he himself was on shore while passengers were still scrambling to get off the ship. this was friday night. the latest rescue from on board was yesterday.

>> this is not happening.

>> reporter: the pictures emerging from the costa concordia -- [ screaming ]

>> reporter: people screaming. just after, passengers experienced a loud rumble, a shake, tilting and then a reassuring announcement.

>> the situation is under control.

>> reporter: the calm lasted as long as the lights did.

>> people were passing out, getting nervous, having chest pains . i was having chest pains . i was having anxiety because i don't know how to swim.

>> reporter: panicked passengers, desperate for escape. some fought for lifeboats.

>> we were dangling above the water with the lifeboats probably for another hour before they even released them.

>> 30 feet up.

>> reporter: hours on a swiftly sinking ship.

>> when we got into the water we couldn't get away from the ship because it kept towing in.

>> reporter: many finally just jumped into the cold black water .

>> they were saying that it was just an electrical problem, but it wasn't. we saw the big rock outside.

>> reporter: the rock that ripped a 160-foot gash in the hull. at least five people died. more are missing including two americans . and now the company, owned by carnival, reveals in a statement, there may have been significant human error , the vessel appears to have been too close to shore, the captain appears not to have followed procedures. he says navigation showed the way was clear. he was suspected of manslaughter and abandoning ship. days after the disaster, rescuers keep looking. this man, the ship's purser was found on board just yesterday afternoon. this honeymooning couple, saturday night. searchers found the bodies of two elderly men. 120 americans were on board. families from all over the country headed home with awful memories. they never dreamed possible.

>> it was virtually a scene from "titanic." it felt like we were doing the actual scene. it was surreal.

>> reporter: these are live pictures now from the scene. overnight rescuers pulled the body of a sixth victim from on board. this morning they have had to suspend operations because the ship is still sinking. conditions are too dangerous. the two americans who are missing have been identified by their local paper as gerald and barbara heil from minnesota. natalie?

>> all right, michelle kosinski seeing those pictures, it's unbelievable. the ananayis family was among the last to leave and they just got back to the u.s. good morning to you all.

>> good morning.

>> how are you all holding up? you just got home last night.

>> just been home a few hours. i think we're doing as best as we can at this point.

>> we just feel blessed to be alive.

>> you certainly are cindy, describe the moment when the ship hit the rock.

>> we were sitting in the dining room , just eating our family meal and all of the sudden, everything just started shaking and a people were running and there was just a blackout. we just didn't know where to go.

>> valerie, you described this experience as being pretty much like exactly what happened with the "titanic." describe the chaos on board. what were they telling you to do?

>> it was very sad. the chaos was something that you see in the movie "titanic." there was no direction by any of the crew. a lot of the passengers were panicking rather than trying to stay calm and think things through. people were falling, things were flying. it was just a very --

>> how would you -- i'm sorry. we have a little bit of a delay here. georgia , let me ask you. in a statement the cruise company say in handling the emergency the captain appears not to have followed standard procedures but it is becoming clear that the crew acted bravely and swiftly to help evacuate more than 4,000 individuals during a challenging situation. georgia , in your experience how were the crew members handling this emergency?

>> first of all, i have been on over 75 cruises. i have a lot of experience. there was absolutely no leadership provided. there was no direction. there were no officers available. everybody was one man for themselves in this. the only way people got off the ship was not with the help of the personnel. you did not see one officer there. people did not know how to do anything. it was very disorganized and there was no help. you were on your own.

>> georgia , i know you describe an encounter you had with a young couple from argentina with a baby. they asked for your help with their baby. can you tell me what happened?

>> yes. we were trying to get to a banister to get as high as we could. we had first been in a lifeboat they didn't know how to get started and they couldn't function well with it, so we had to get out of it. as we got out, this family we had been in the lifeboat with came up and they tried to get up to the banister where we were, where we thought we were safe and they turned to me and said, take my baby and they gave me their 2-year-old and i held onto the baby as long as i could, but we were at the top of a stairwell and i was holding on with one hand and i was afraid that the baby -- because the ship kept going back and sinking hr and i was afraid i would lose balance and the baby would fall down the banister.

>> do you know what happened with the couple or the --

>> no. i would love to know if they survived. there were a lot of people --

>> dean, i know you were, in fact, one of the last to get on a lifeboat. can you tell me how you finally got out?

>> i never got on a lifeboat. yeah, we got a lifeboat but we had to climb up. when the ship turned over completely 90 degrees we were actually walking on the outside walls.

>> you were walking on the very outer perimeter of the ship? is that right? on top of the ship?

>> yes. on top of the ship because we were all down below on the interior passageway. a ladder came down and we all climbed up the ladder, hundreds of us.

>> how long then before -- from the moment the boat started to list to when you were able to get off the boat, how long did that rescue then take?

>> we were on the boat between 9:15 and 9:30 in the mediterranean. we didn't get off until 2:30 in the morning at that time.

>> wow.

>> there was only two crew members behind me. we had to get up actually on the outside of the ship. we walked along where the windows were. i don't know what deck it is. there was an open deck area. with help from others, some german nationals and an austrian national which actually put their lives on the line, helping us pull passengers up. we had to crawl along and there were license left from the boats that were guidelines. they eventually cinched them off down where the last boat was coming around. we shimmied down those ropes and had to jump into the lifeboat. that was not far from where the damage was from the rocks.

>> what a harrowing experience you have all been through. george, dean, valerie, cindy. we are glad you're safe and sound and back home once again.