Video: US couple still missing after shipwreck

  1. Transcript of: US couple still missing after shipwreck

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Tonight a thoroughly modern cruise ship outfitted with state-of-the-art navigation lies on its side just off the coast of Italy after running into rocks that have been jutting out of those waters for centuries. One of the boulders, in fact, is now embedded in the side of the hull. It was an awful, harrowing night on the water, a scramble for the life boats as it tipped to one side. Some knotted together bed sheets, some passengers were forced to jump. Thankfully, it was close to shore. In plain English , the Costa Concordia shouldn't have been anywhere near those rocks. And while some didn't make it, some are still missing, a lot of passengers are very lucky to be alive and on dry land. Of the 4200 souls on board, six are dead, 29 still missing. That number includes two Americans. We have this story covered from Italy tonight. Before we get to NBC 's Harry Smith , we begin tonight with Michelle Kosinski . Michelle , good evening.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Good evening, Brian . The rescue efforts have been relentless and dangerous. And now we know according to the company what caused this disaster was human error . The captain's decision to go off course, bring the ship closer to shore. Now there is desperate hope that any of the more than two dozen still missing might yet be found alive. Rescuers fighting their way while there's time to find people who might still be trapped deep within the Costa Concordia today battled weather, had to pull back as the half sunk behemoth shifted underwater, where divers on a good day can barely see.

    Unidentified Man: It's dark and also we are losing the track of our way.

    KOSINSKI: Among the missing, American retirees Jerry and Barbara Heil from Minnesota . Their family says they couldn't wait for their dream Mediterranean cruise. Just yesterday searchers did manage to rescue the ship's purser, trapped on board for a day and a half. A boulder still lodged in the Concordia 's ripped hull, the ship now lying on a rocky bed more than 100 feet deep, at an angle, in danger of sliding. And a state of emergency declared over worries the half a million gallons of fuel could be leaking. Still emerging video shows how a vacation three hours in devolved into a desperate push to escape.

    Unidentified Woman: People were passing out. People were getting nervous. People were having chest pains. I was having chest pains. I was having anxiety because I don't know how to swim.

    KOSINSKI: Infrared video shows people inching down the exposed hull in the dark. Today Costa Cruises called this the result of human error , blaming the captain for making an unauthorized decision to steer off course closer to an island. He's also under suspicion of abandoning ship while passengers still scrambled for their lives. And the company said this course change may have all been for show.

    Mr. PIER LUIGI FOSCHI (Costa Cruises CEO): He wanted to show the ship and to nearby this island of Giglio and so he decided to change the course of the ship.

    KOSINSKI: The captain has defended his actions, claiming navigational charts showed a clear route. Locals say it's not uncommon for cruise liners to make a display close to land, sounding horns, delighting tourists. This video of the Concordia on a previous run shows just that. Today, this time, the picture shows only disaster on an enormous scale. You know, Brian , we have heard repeated scathing accounts from passengers about the evacuation procedure. But today the company defended the crew saying that ship rolled quickly, rendering half the life boats useless and commended them for helping to get more than 4,000 people off safely in two hours time.

    WILLIAMS: NBC 's Michelle Kosinski , thanks, starting

updated 1/17/2012 12:53:01 PM ET 2012-01-17T17:53:01

A Minnesota couple missing after a cruise ship capsized off the west coast of Italy are devout Catholics who spend part of almost every day at church, where he teaches religious classes and she hands out baked goods and other sweet treats to parishioners.

Church members described the kindness and good deeds of Jerry and Barbara Heil on Monday as a search continued along the Italian coast. The Heils are among more than two dozen people still missing after the Costa Concordia hit a reef and ran aground near Tuscany on Friday night.

Six people have been confirmed dead, and prosecutors are investigating the ship's captain for manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck. The ship's owner said the captain, Francesco Schettino, caused the crash by deviating from the authorized course.

Diane Vorland, who is confined to a wheelchair, told The Associated Press that Jerry Heil, 69, came to her house every Thursday for the past three years to administer her communion and recite the rosary. The trip, she said, "was a big deal for them."

"On the Thursday before he left, he said, 'The next time you see me I'll have been to Rome,'" Vorland said.

Captain’s favor to crew to blame for cruise disaster?

Other members of Church of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake described the Heils as quiet, kind people deeply involved in the congregation. They joined the church in 1973, and their four children attended its elementary and middle school, said Larry Erickson, the parish administrator.

Jerry Heil taught religious education classes for everyone from children to senior citizens. Dennis Hardy, who attended one of his classes, said Barbara Heil, 70, often accompanied her husband, bringing baked goods she gave to class members.

"Both of them are at the church, I'd say, pretty much every day," Erickson said.

The Heils live in White Bear Lake, a suburb of about 25,000 people 15 miles outside St. Paul. The community sits between two large lakes, White Bear and Bald Eagle, which are encircled by opulent homes and historic cottages dating to the early 1900s when the area was a weekend destination for wealthy St. Paul residents. Today, the city retains vestiges of a resort aura but also is home to middle- and working-class neighborhoods.

Jerry Heil retired from a job at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While reserved, he possesses a dry sense of humor, Vorland said. After communion and prayers, she said, he would engage her in deep and thoughtful conversations about history or church teachings.

"Every Christmas he and his wife would come and give me some fudge," she said. "They're just solid people."

Jerry Heil also is a longtime member of the congregation's Knights of Columbus chapter. Duane Jabas, a former grand knight, called him a jack-of-all-trades who helped plan and run nearly every chapter function for years. "You always knew every detail would be covered if Jerry was involved," Jabas said.

Shawn Gutoski, who works at St. Pius X, said the Heils were the type of people every church needs to function. "They're not people that want to draw attention to themselves, but you knew if they were involved that it would get done," Gutowski said.

The church's music director announced before Sunday Mass that the Heils were missing after the shipwreck.

"A lot of people gasped," said Hardy, who was in attendance. "I know there are a lot of prayers going over to Italy right now."

Hardy, who recently lost his driver's license, said Jerry Heil offered to drive him around on errands.

Several family members did not respond to phone calls from the AP on Sunday and Monday. A family friend outside the home of the couple's son, Aaron Heil, gave the AP a statement from the family.

"We are waiting patiently for the rescuers to safely try to find our parents," it said. "Our prayers and thoughts are with our parents; those others that are still missing and their families; and the brave rescuers. We are working closely with the U.S. Embassy in Italy and are confident that everything is being done to find our parents."

Sarah Heil, their daughter, told WBBM radio in Chicago that her parents had been looking forward to their 16-day vacation.

"They raised four kids and sent them all to private school, elementary to college, so they never had any money," Sarah Heil said. "So when they retired, they went traveling. And this was to be a big deal — a 16-day trip. They were really excited about it."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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