VA woman talks about cruise accident

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - With two dozen people still missing and 11 dead, for the first time we're getting a frightening account from a Virginia woman who survived the deadly cruise ship incident off the coast of Italy.

She was at dinner with another couple when the ship started taking on water. Now that couple is missing, presumed dead.

"I was hoping that it was not the people who had dinner with us," said Karen Kennedy.

Kennedy and her boyfriend Rick Langlands were in a dining hall, enjoying the company of a couple from Minnesota that they'd met on the cruise. Barbara and Jerry Heil had recently retired and were celebrating on the Costa Concordia. But mid-way through dinner disaster struck.

The ship started to list and was taking on water. Kennedy's self-preservation instincts kicked in. She and Langlands started what would be a long, arduous task of making their way to safety. But somewhere along the way, the Hampton Roads couple lost contact with the Heils.

Only when she returned to Virginia, did she learn the couple didn't make it.

"We didn't really get confirmation until we were back here yesterday that it was the couple," she said.

Getting off the ship was no easy task: there was mass hysteria; people were fighting, and seats on the lifeboats were at a premium.

"They closed the gate and they started to push it off the side of the boat and people started jumping from the boat into our lifeboat. And it messed up the weight distribution in the lifeboat, because they were trying to lower it," Kennedy recalled.

Once on shore, Kennedy and her boyfriend got a flight to Rome on Saturday and got back to Virginia Monday night. She says every time she thinks of the Heils, she cries.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.