ATHENS — Italian and Greek helicopter crews worked into the night to airlift passengers off a burning ferry adrift in the Adriatic Sea, battling darkness and bad weather that hampered rescue efforts by other ships throughout Sunday.
Helicopters were plucking passengers off the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic and transferring them to a nearby vessel, after a dramatic day that began when a fire broke out on its lower deck in the early hours.
Authorities said one Greek man had died and there were reports of four injured among 478 passengers and crew and as night fell. The Italian navy said early Monday that 251 people had been rescued from the danger zone, but 227 were still on board.
The Italian coastguard said the fire on board had been "tamed" and the ship was being stabilized by cables attached to a tug in order to assist rescue operations which remained extremely difficult in rough seas and strong winds. The ship will be towed to a nearby port after cables are securely attached.
The airlifts would continue while the boat was being towed towards port, and rescue workers would try to get closer by boat to bring people off if conditions allowed, Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told reporters. "It will be a very difficult night and I hope that everything will go well and we will rescue all passengers and all crew members," Varvitsiotis said.
The Italian navy said two Italian air force helicopters, one Greek Superpuma helicopter and an Italian plane were taking part in the rescue. Other aircraft and 10 ships were also taking part in the operation in support roles.