Initially hampered by bad weather and strong winds, rescuers finally began airlifting passengers from an Italian ferry that caught fire off the coast of Albania on Sunday.

As of 1:30 p.m. EST, the BBC reports 165 of 478 people onboard the Norman Atlantic have been rescued and one has died after falling into the sea.

From NBC News:

Each air transfer was taking about 15 minutes per helicopter, according to a Greek Defence Ministry official. Another official said two Italian and two Greek helicopters were involved in the rescue. Coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said the heavy rain that was hampering the rescue had helped contain the fire, although the ship was still burning. Two tugboats were present, one of which had managed to approach the ship to try to extinguish the blaze.

Before rescuers arrived, descriptions of the situation on the ship were grim.

"We are burning and sinking, no one can save us," a passenger reportedly told Greek TV by telephone. "Please help us! Don't leave us!"

[Image via AP Images]