"Our immediate priority is to account for all passengers and crew, and to secure the vessel to ensure that there are no environmental impacts," Costa Cruises said in a statement. "We have engaged the services of a top specialized salvage company to develop an action plan and help establish a protection perimeter around the ship."
The incident began with a loud bang followed by a blackout just as passengers were having dinner. Minutes later, an announcement from the crew said it was merely an electrical problem. But with the ship tilting, many passengers ignored their orders and scrambled to the deck.
Vacationers reported the crew did not want to lower the lifeboats. Many reported forcing their way on against orders. Some were lowered, but not everyone got on.
Honeymooners Emily Lau, 27, and her husband, Benji Smith, 34, said they had to tie sheets and a rope together to lower themselves over the side of the capsizing ship.
"It was every man for himself," Lau told "God Morning America" today. "The main thing is no one knew how to help because they were never trained. That is the cruise ship's fault."
By 11 p.m., the ship was tilting too much to its side and many lifeboats couldn't be lowered. Many of the ship's occupants jumped into the icy waters to swim for shore and at least 50 people had to be airlifted by helicopter.
Mark and Sarah Plath of Little Rock, Ark., awoke to an announcement just before 11 p.m. saying there was a power outage but not to worry about it. Using their iPhone's level app, the couple soon discovered the ship was tilting 23 degrees. When they went outside, they found about 500 people on the fourth floor deck.
"We were trying to get outside," Mark Plath told ABC News. "People had children with them, people were pushing, people were yelling, people were pushing back. It was difficult to stay in control because so many people were upset."
"We were moving really fast and so Mark said, 'We've got to jump,'" Sarah Plath said. The couple jumped and swam to nearby rocks.
Lynn Kaelin of Seattle told ABC News the ship's hallways were so crowded that "we couldn't see where we were going. People were crying and screaming. No one was telling us what to do, at all."
Karen Kois, also of Seattle, said she knew to get warm clothing, although others were barefoot and lightly dressed.
"I had a sweater on under a raincoat. I gave it to a baby who had nothing," she said.
As for the pushing and shoving, Kois said, the crew "told us go one way, then the other. We didn't know what to do. They were just standing looking at us."
When they succeeded in reaching a life boat, it took 45 minutes to launch it, with the ropes tangled and the little crafts tilted.
"And it's pitched black," Kois added.