10 years later, Costa Concordia survivors share their stories from doomed cruise ship

·2 min read

Ten years after the deadly Costa Concordia cruise line disaster in Italy, survivors still vividly remember scenes of chaos they say were like something straight out of the movie "Titanic."

NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella caught up with a group of survivors on TODAY Wednesday, a decade after they escaped a maritime disaster that claimed the lives of 32 people. The Italian cruise ship ran aground off the tiny Italian island of Giglio after striking an underground rock and capsizing.

"I think it’s the panic, the feeling of panic, is what’s carried through over 10 years," Ian Donoff, who was on the cruise with his wife Janice for their honeymoon, told Cobiella. "And it’s just as strong now."

More than 4,000 passengers and crew were on board when the ship crashed into rocks in the dark in the Mediterranean Sea, sending seawater rushing into the vessel as people scrambled for their lives.

The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, had been performing a sail-past salute of Giglio when he steered the ship too close to the island and hit the jagged reef, opening a 230-foot gash in the side of the cruise liner.

Passengers struggled to escape in the darkness, clambering to get to the life boats. Alaska resident Nate Lukes was with his wife, Cary, and their four daughters aboard the ship and remembers the chaos that ensued as the ship started to sink.

"There was really a melee there is the best way to describe it," he told Cobiella. "It's very similar to the movie 'Titanic.' People were jumping onto the top of the lifeboats and pushing down women and children to try to get to them."

The lifeboats wouldn't drop down because the ship was tilted on its side, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded on the side of the ship for hours in the cold. People were left to clamber down a rope ladder over a distance equivalent to 11 stories.

"Everybody was rushing for the lifeboats," Nate Lukes said. "I felt like (my daughters) were going to get trampled, and putting my arms around them and just holding them together and letting the sea of people go by us."

Schettino was convicted of multiple manslaughter as well as abandoning ship after leaving before all the passengers had reached safety. He is now serving a 16-year prison sentence.

It took nearly two years for the damaged ship to be raised from its side before it was towed away to be scrapped.

The calamity caused changes in the cruise industry like carrying more lifejackets and holding emergency drills before leaving port.

A decade after that harrowing night, the survivors are grateful to have made it out alive. None of the survivors who spoke with Cobiella have been on a cruise since that day.

"I said that if we survive this, then our marriage will have to survive forever," Ian Donoff said.