Rescued passenger of the "Norman Atlantic" accident, Marko Gondolo, 40, holds his daughter Serafina, 5, during their arrival at the airport of Elefsina, west of Athens, on December 29, 2014. The death toll after a ferry caught fire in rough seas in the Adriatic rose to ten on December 29th with dozens of passengers still unaccounted for. It was unclear whether the missing passengers had drowned or otherwise died unnoticed or whether the ill-fated Norman Atlantic's manifest lists were inaccurate. AFP PHOTO / POOL / YANNIS KOLESIDIS/YANNIS KOLESID/AFP/Getty Images
Passenger: We felt explosions in our feet
02:00 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Death toll rises to 10 after fire on ferry in Adriatic Sea

All passengers evacuated; ship's commander leaves vessel

More than 400 people had been on board stricken vessel

Brindisi, Italy CNN  — 

Conditions for the rescue of passengers off a ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea could hardly have been worse.

Strong winds, choppy seas and thick smoke pounded the efforts.

In the end, at least 10 people died, the Italian coast guard said on Monday. But many more were saved – 427 – the coast guard said.

Route of the Norman Atlantic

Ute Kilger was one of those who survived.

“We were wet and cold, and the rain was like needles,” she said. “There was always these explosions and this feeling you have in your feet. It goes through your body.”

Talking to CNN in donated Red Cross pajamas, she stumbled over her words: “It was unreal, but I knew it is so real. This was really bad, to really know, it is real.”

The Italian coast guard earlier said that all remaining passengers had been evacuated from the vessel, with the boat’s commander finally leaving the ship at 2:50 p.m. Monday. The coast guard said it was inspecting the ship and deciding how to transport it – and where.

The public prosecutor in Bari, Italy, said he had requested the seizure of the ship as part of a criminal investigation. Authorities are waiting for authorization from Albanian officials to release the ship, because it is in Albanian waters.

Giuseppe Volpe, the prosecutor, added that the owner and the captain of the ship will be notified of the investigation. No charges have been filed.

More than 400 passengers were traveling on the Norman Atlantic between the Greek port of Igoumenitsa and the Italian port of Ancona when the fire began, apparently in the ferry’s parking bay.

‘Dying of cold’

In the first three hours of the fire, around 150 people were able to escape via the vessel’s lifeboats. But when the ferry lost power, the electronic arms were unable to function, leaving the rest of the boats dangling uselessly by its side.

After waiting for hours in rough conditions, one Greek man told Italian state broadcaster RAI TV that passengers were “dying of cold and suffocating from the smoke,” and that their feet were burning from the heat of the flames.

Helicopters with night vision equipment worked through the night to pull passengers off the ferry, one by one.

An Italian navy medical team boarded the ship to aid passengers, some of whom had been suffering hypothermia and smoke inhalation, the navy said. The already cold conditions were worsened by the spray from tugboat hoses as authorities attempted to douse the flames.

A freighter carrying 49 rescued passengers arrived at the port of Bari on Monday. Photos showed survivors wrapped in emergency foil blankets being carried away on stretchers.

One man died after he jumped or fell into the cold water, authorities said. It is unclear how the other victims died.

‘Prisoners on a burning ship’

Dramatic cell phone images filmed by a passenger showed flames through shattered portholes, while a wider view released by rescuers showed a huge plume of thick, black smoke streaming from the stricken vessel.