Nightly News   |  January 16, 2012

US couple still missing after shipwreck

Off the Tuscan coast of Italy, search and rescue efforts resumed Monday along the capsized cruise liner, three days since the ship struck rock and flipped on its side, with more than 4,000 people on board. NBC’s Michelle Kosinski reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

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