PALERMO, Sicily – Rosanna Di Cesare was flying to Tunisia on vacation with her boyfriend and his mother when their airliner suffered engine troubles and tried to make an emergency landing in Sicily.
But the Tuninter ATR-72 (search) didn't make it to the Palermo airport Saturday, plunging into the choppy Mediterranean Sea 10 miles off Cape Gallo (search). Di Cesare said both engines stopped before the plane hit the water.
"It was terrible. It was terrible," she said.
As the plane broke apart, Di Cesare, 36, clung to a floating suitcase for 30 minutes before being rescued by a passing motorboat.
"We were miraculously saved," Di Cesare said from her hospital bed. "Even if I lost everything, I lost nothing."
At least 13 people were killed, while 23 survived. At least two people were believed missing. Di Cesare said her boyfriend survived, but there was no word about his mother.
Rescue teams worked Sunday to recover the missing as families of those confirmed dead arrived to identify their bodies and survivors marveled at having lived through the ordeal. Some survivors clutched the wings and fuselage of the wreckage, which was battered by 10-foot waves and strong currents.
Sicily's regional president, Salvatore Cuffaro, said early Sunday that emergency crews had located the bodies of two passengers but could not recover them because of "technical problems."
Later, Lt. Danilo Murvana at Palermo's port and chief Prosecutor Piero Grasso said the number of missing was believed to be three because an extra crew member was in the passenger section, bringing the total number of people on board to 39.
The plane had departed Bari, Italy, for the Tunisian resort of Djerba, which is popular with Italian vacationers. During the flight, pilot Chafik Gharbi told Rome airport tower officials at 3:24 p.m. that the twin-propeller plane was having engine trouble, and he asked permission to make an emergency landing in Palermo.
Sixteen minutes later he told tower officials he was "ditching in the sea," said Nicoletta Tommessile, a spokeswoman for ENAV (search), Italy's air safety agency.
Tuninter director Tlili Mohamed Ali told a news conference in Tunis that Gharbi, whose 25 years of experience included 10 years flying ATRs, ditched because the engine gave out before he could reach the airstrip. The pilot suffered a vertebral fracture and trauma to the head and chest, he said.
Passenger Roberto Fusco said events unfolded quickly as the plane broke up and seawater rushed in.
"They told us they had to make an emergency landing. Then there was panic. Everyone struggled to get their life jackets on," Fusco said from his bed at Villa Sofia Hospital, where he was being treated for minor arm and leg injuries.
He said he took a deep breath, released his seat belt and plunged into the water. When he surfaced, a fellow passenger helped him and his girlfriend onto a wing.
"I saw the pilot on the wing," Fusco said. "He was in a terrible state. He had blood all over his face."
On Sunday, a coast guard boat, helicopter and half-dozen motorboats searched for the missing. The bodies might be in part of the plane that is still submerged — either the tail or the front end, which sank after impact, said Gaspare Prestifilippo, a division chief at the Palermo port.
Overnight, authorities hauled the mangled fuselage out of the sea with at least one of its wings still attached. Rescue crews had not found the flight data recorder, Prestifilippo said.
"We did all that we could in a very short time," Cuffaro said Sunday outside Palermo's Civic Hospital. "But you know the dynamics of the disaster, so the result is what it is, unfortunately."
Of the 23 survivors, 16 were being treated at the Civic Hospital, but none suffered life-threatening injuries, said Dr. Mario Re, head of the hospital's intensive care unit. The most seriously injured were the pilot, co-pilot, a flight attendant and two passengers.
Relatives of the victims were flown overnight to Palermo to identify the dead, said Michele Gandolfo of the morgue at the Giaccone University Polyclinic.
Another flight with more relatives of the victims was arriving Sunday, and Cuffaro said all loved ones would be put up at hotels around Palermo.
"We're trying to help as best as possible those who are in need and accompany with our prayers those who are unfortunately no longer with us," Cuffaro said.
Pope Benedict XVI (search) said Sunday he was praying for the victims, the vast majority of whom came from the Bari area.
"I share in the mourning of the families and of the entire ecclesiastic and civil community of the city," he said during his traditional Sunday blessing at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo in the hills south of Rome.
Palermo Prosecutor Piero Grasso said authorities had ruled out terrorism. The plane apparently hit the water intact, but the tail broke off from the main wreckage hours later, rescuers said.
The crash will be investigated by ENAV, Italian prosecutors and Tunisian authorities.
The ATR-72, which was built in France, has a two-person crew and seats up to 74 passengers. Its maiden flight was in 1988.
The plane was delivered to Tuninter in 1992 and had flown 29,710 hours, ATR said in a statement.