Race Against Time to Save Passengers From Smoke-Filled Ferry – ABC News

PHOTO: A person is lifted on an Italian Navy helicopter as the car ferry Norman Atlantic burns in waters off Greece, Dec. 28, 2014, in this handout video grab of the Italian Marina Militare.

International rescue workers are in a race against the clock to save the hundreds of people still stranded on a ferry adrift in rough seas between Albania and Italy.

The Italian Navy said that 265 of the 478 people on the ferry, sailing from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy, had been evacuated by 7 a.m. Monday, with 213 still on board. Most were airlifted by helicopter to other merchant vessels sailing nearby, though a few were flown to hospitals in southern Italy to be treated for hypothermia.

PHOTO: In this image provided by the Italian Navy, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Dec. 28, 2014.

The ship, the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, ran into trouble when fire broke out on a car deck before dawn Sunday.

The Norman Atlantic, carrying almost 500 people had left the Greek port of Patras, sailing towards Ancona in Italy.

“There were hundreds of containers with oil, they went on fire,” one survivor said. “Floors started collapsing from the heat.”

PHOTO: Italian Coast Guard members carry a body as they arrive in the Brindisi harbor, Brindisi, Italy, Dec. 28, 2014.

The flames that engulfed the ship’s interior have since been put out, according to the Italian navy, but gale force winds and poor visibility were hampering rescue efforts.

At least one person died and two were injured in the risky rescue operation.

“It will be a very difficult night. A night in which we hope we will be able to rescue all on board,” Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said in Athens.

PHOTO: In this photo taken from a nearby ship, smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic ferry after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Dec. 28, 2014.

As the fire blazed, passengers fled to the vessel’s upper decks, where they huddled, pelted by rain and hail, as thick smoke billowed up from the decks below, passengers told Greek media by phone.

“We are outside, we are very cold, the ship is full of smoke,” passenger Giorgos Stiliaras told Greek Mega TV.

PHOTO: In this image released by the Italian Navy, passengers and crew are seen on the deck of the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic as it is approached by a rescue helicopter after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Dec. 28, 2014.

He recalled people being awakened by “the smell of burning plastic” and that the heat from the fire felt like the floors were “boiling.”

Even hours after officials said the fires on the vessel had been put out, thick dark smoke continued to billow out of the ship, complicating the rescue efforts filling the cabins of helicopters hovering over the ship trying to lift the passengers to safety.

PHOTO: In this image released by the Italian Navy, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Dec. 28, 2014.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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