The cruise ship that ran aground is seen off the west coast of Italy as a helicopter hovers above to try and find passengers
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy,
The captain of a luxury cruise liner that ran aground off the coast of Italy was arrested for abandoning his ship - while scores of people remained stranded in the sinking death trap.
The massive Costa Concordia - which was carrying more than 4,000 people, including 126 Americans - took on so much water through a 160-foot gash that the ship quickly listed to its side, preventing many of its life boats from being launched.
Six people were confirmed dead and another 69 were missing, potentially lost on the capsized ship, the largest vessel ever to sink.
The 114,500-ton vessel’s captain, Francesco Schettino, was charged with manslaughter and leaving his post after the horrific wreck, which comes just months before the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
The tragedy unfolded as many of the guests settled down to a candlelight dinner, the Mediterranean Sea passing serenely outside the grand windows of their luxury cruise ship.
But what was to have been a week-long dream vacation was suddenly interrupted by the nightmarish sound of steel of giving way - and a violent crash that toppled everything in the tony dining room.
The cruise ship plunged into darkness - and then chaos.
“They were at dinner at the time, and they just heard a bang and felt a jolt and all of a sudden the ship tilted,” said Phyllis Papa of Wallingford, Conn., whose sister and niece were aboard the glitzy liner.
"There was a lot of chaos no one knew what to do or where to go, and they couldn't walk because it was tilting so bad,” Papa said. “Everyone was screaming. They thought they were going to die.”
Officials at the United States Embassy in Rome said all of the Americans onboard the ill-fated ship were accounted for.
“They had nothing but there clothes on, they lost everything,” said Papa, who spoke to her sister Maria and niece, Melissa Goduti, in the hours after their brush with a watery grave. “They watched it sink.”
Carrying 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew members, the Costa Concordia was on its usual weekly route across the Mediterranean Sea and departed Civitavecchia - the port of Rome - three hours before disaster struck.
The liner’s captain told investigators that the 950-foot-long ship hit a submerged rock - which Schettino claimed was not on his navigation chart - that immediately ripped a savage gash in the ship’s side.
Schettino tried to steer the vessel toward the shallow water off the island’s coast - but the Costa Concordia took on so much water, navigation was nearly impossible.