Hong Kong (CNN) -- What started off as an exciting boat trip to celebrate China's National Day in Hong Kong quickly turned into a nightmare for more than 100 passengers on board.
Local power company Hong Kong Electric had been ferrying a group of its employees and their families to watch an evening fireworks display in the city's Victoria Harbor when it collided with a ferry heading from Hong Kong Island to Lamma, one of 200 outlying islands in the territory.
Passengers on board the stricken vessel described how quickly the water rushed in.
"First it was up to here and then here. The water rose so quickly. We thought we were going to die for sure," one woman, who declined to be named, told CNN affiliate i-Cable.
"Everyone was underwater. The boat overturned; everything came crashing down; the chair slid down."
Another woman recounted her terrifying ordeal trying to free herself from her seat as the boat sank.
"My leg was stuck, and I couldn't get it out. I thought I wouldn't be able to get it out, and I was going to die," she said.
"The water was suffocating me. My friend tugged with all her might and got my leg out. I was wearing a life jacket, so I floated up to the surface. I had swallowed a lot of water. I really thought I was going to die. Thinking about all those at the bottom who were stuck, they're not here anymore."
A male passenger described the chaos as the boat rolled violently.
"I opened the window and pushed a child out. I put a life jacket on him and pushed him out first," he told i-Cable. "At the time, it was very chaotic. The boat was completely standing straight up in the water. It was chaotic. All the tables and chairs were everywhere. It was like a slide; everything was sliding down."
The shocked survivor admitted he didn't know where his wife was.
Rescue services, quickly on the scene with boats and helicopters, managed to pluck more than 100 people from the water, though 28 were declared dead on the scene, while another nine died in hospital.
The other vessel involved -- a regular passenger ferry -- managed to limp to the safety of the pier just a few hundred meters away on Lamma, southwest of Hong Kong Island.
Witnesses on board the ferry described the moment the two vessels collided.
"We suddenly heard a loud noise. Then the boat swung to one side, and we lost our balance," one man, named as Mr. Yip, told i-Cable. "People fell. They fell off their seats. They hit themselves. After a while, when everything calmed down, we saw we were almost at the pier, so we asked the captain if we could dock first.
"When we did so, our boat was flooded. The front of the ship had water in it, so people got nervous again."
Chris Head, a teacher from Lamma, said the ferry went from what felt like full speed to "an abrupt halt." He said he thought they'd hit "a rock or a lighthouse."
Meanwhile, rescuers continued their search for survivors off Lamma on Tuesday morning in full view of commuters as ferries resumed their services to the main islands to the north.
CNN's Jane Sit contributed to this report.