(CNN) — One man died trying to escape a burning ferry in the Adriatic Sea on Sunday afternoon, and hundreds more were still awaiting rescue hours after the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic caught fire Sunday morning.
The Italian Coast Guard said the passenger died after jumping off the ferry, and that two other passengers were injured.
Those remaining on board were desperately awaiting rescue on the upper deck — “dying of cold and suffocating from the smoke” even as their feet were “burning” from the fire’s heat, said a Greek passenger on the ferry who called Italy’s state broadcaster RAI TV.
The ferry was carrying more than 400 passengers, 56 crew members and 222 vehicles when the fire broke out early Sunday morning off the coast of Greece. The fire is believed to have started in the garage area after the ship left Igoumenitsa, Greece, bound for Ancona, Italy.
As of Sunday afternoon, 165 people had been rescued and 312 were still on board, according to the Italian Navy, which is leading the search and rescue operation with assistance from Greece and Albania.
The joint rescue operation will continue into Sunday night, Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti said on Twitter.
Thick clouds of smoke enveloped the vessel earlier Sunday as rescuers awaited an opportunity to approach. At least eight ships were deployed, but heavy winds and freezing waters hindered their efforts, making evacuation by air the only feasible option.
One dramatic image from the scene shows a mother and daughter being airlifted from the ferry in metal baskets by a rescue helicopter.
Turkish diplomatic personnel are heading to Igoumenitsa, the likely port for evacuated passengers, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement. Turkish citizens were among the passengers, with Greeks and Italians making up the majority.
The disaster has made national headlines in Greece and Italy, who had the most passengers and
CNN’s Elinda Labropoulou and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.