The Calgary couple were among 12 Canadians who survived the capsizing of the luxury cruise liner off the Italian coast on Friday night that left five people dead and forced the evacuation of more than 4,000 people.
The couple's son-in-law, David Hornstein, says Laurence Davis, 60, and his wife Andrea, 52, called their family on Saturday to say they had escaped by swimming to shore.
Hornstein said his in-laws, who are both self-employed and have been on cruises before, were having dinner when they felt the ship hit something. When it quickly began to list, the couple realized the ship could drown.
"They had glassware and cutlery falling down onto them. So they hid with the people they were having dinner with under the table until that finally stopped," Hornstein told The Canadian Press in an interview from Calgary.
They went to the high side of the ship, but the lifeboats weren't able to work there, so they were directed to the low side. He said there appeared to be issues with getting those boats launched, too.
Hornstein said the couple told him that they didn't have life jackets. Laurence considered going to an upper deck to get some, but they were worried they wouldn't be able to find each other again.
He said it was chaos. The crew were trying to do what they could, but the Davis' knew they needed to get off the ship right away.
"So they decided to just not take life jackets and swim for it," Hornstein said.
"They had so much adrenaline going that they really didn't feel the temperature of the water or realize how far they had to swim. They just did what they had to do to get to shore."
The ship was a mere 135 metres from shore at the time of the grounding, but it was dark and many feared the partially sub-merged ship could sink.
"Laurence mentioned he was swimming back crawl because he was keeping an eye on the ship, that was leaning over top of them. So it gave the impression that the ship could just fall over on top of them and they didn't know how long it would take to get to that point."
Hornstein said his mother-in-law swims as part of her fitness routine, but his father-in-law only swims occasionally.
They made it to shore, but suffered bruises and cuts as they climbed up onto the rocks. Andrea had taken off her shoes to swim.
He said the couple phoned him and his wife in Calgary from a cellphone that he believed someone on the shore loaned them. They boarded a school bus which took them to a hotel in Rome.
The cruise ship had 4,234 people aboard when it ran aground hundreds of metres off the tiny island of Giglio. As of Sunday night, at least 15 people were still missing.
Questions remain about why the ship had navigated so close to the dangerous reefs and rocks that jut off Giglio's eastern coast.
Italian authorities are investigating allegations the captain abandoned the stricken liner before all the passengers had escaped. According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.
The Davis' will be arriving home in Calgary on Monday evening, Hornstein said.
"We're definitely looking forward to them getting back home."
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