(CNN) -- College students Skylar Pentasuglia and Allison Garrett screamed in panic and swam for their lives as a 130,000-ton cruise ship bore down on them and their capsized jet ski.
"I was literally screaming, 'What are we going to do?'" Pentasuglia recalled. "It's unbelievable how close we were."
It all started March 11, when they had arrived in Cape Canaveral, Florida, after a long drive from West Virginia -- Pentasuglia from Bluefield State College and Garrett from Concord University -- to enjoy their spring break.
The students -- who had extensive experience operating personal water craft -- decided to spend some time exploring the harbor just outside the port.
Shortly after taking off, when the pair reached the mouth of the harbor, they lost control of the jet ski and fell off, into the water.
At the same time, the ship Carnival Magic had just left port and began to exit the harbor -- heading toward the women.
Although they were wearing life jackets, they scrambled unsuccessfully to climb back on the jet ski as the towering 10-story, 1,004-foot-long vessel pushed toward them at about 7 mph -- well within harbor rules.
Caught on video
In cell phone video taken by a passenger aboard Carnival Magic, people can be heard screaming as they warned Pentasuglia and Garrett to get out of the way.
"Did we run over the jet ski?" a passenger says in the video.
Meanwhile, Brevard County Sheriff's Deputy Taner Primmer -- aboard a Sheriff's Department boat escorting Carnival Magic -- noticed that the students were in trouble.
"They were panicked," Primmer told CNN.
As the escort boat accelerated toward the students, Primmer worried he might not be able to save them before they went under. At the same time, aboard the ship, Harbor Pilot Doug Brown did what he could to steer Carnival Magic away from the women.
"Once I got there, I knew I could get them," Primmer recalled. "I just started reverting to what we train, what we practice."
The massive ship began to sweep by just a few feet from the students just as Primmer quickly yanked them both into his boat. Seconds later, the driverless jet ski hit the side of the cruise ship, bouncing across its hull as the vessel pushed through the water.
'Thanks for saving our lives'
These kinds of incidents are rare, Primmer said. Ships have right of way and are routinely escorted by law enforcement. No investigation or charges are pending.
"We are so lucky he is here, because if he wasn't then we wouldn't be here," Garrett said.
As "thanks for saving our lives," Garrett and Pentasuglia presented Primmer with a gift bag, a new pair of sunglasses and several bags of Lifesavers candy.
"It's just a part of being a deputy, part of what we do," Primmer said. "I'd do it for anybody."