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Cruises are cool because, on most boats, you can buy a drink pass and booze all you want, head to a fancy dinner or pig out at a buffet, catch a Broadway-style show, watch a movie on the big screen, and go to the spa. Some lines even have planetariums, live concerts, mini-golf, on-deck surfing, and water slides.
While many find cruise ships relaxing and virtually stress-free, bad things can happen (and have happened) at sea. According to a set of data compiled by Cruise Junkie, 313 unlucky people have fallen overboard since 2000 — some of whom were never seen again. The highest number of reported incidents happened in 2015, when a total of 27 passengers toppled over the barrier and into the ocean.
These numbers are extremely small considering 20 million people go on cruises each year, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful about the lengths you go to get a selfie, where you go to the bathroom, and how eager you are to reenact scenes from Titanic. Read on to find out more about 14 vacationers who tumbled into the sea and lived to tell the tale.
Around midnight in the middle of August in 2018, a British woman traveling to Venice, Italy, aboard the Norwegian Star fell from the deck and into the Adriatic Sea. Kay Longstaff was in the water for 10 hours before she was saved by a rescue team 60 miles off the shore of Croatia, where she was hospitalized for 24 hours. The former flight attendant did not suffer any physical injuries, and only suffered from stress. She told reporters in Pula she had fallen while sitting on the back deck, and was able to survive because she’s physically fit from doing yoga and sang to stay alive. Had it not been during the dog days of summer, the 46-year-old would’ve likely perished within two hours in dramatically colder and choppier waters.
In August 2016, a woman from Shanghai was traveling from Japan to China with her parents via Royal Caribbean when she took off for a stroll around the ship and never returned. More than 100 volunteers searched the vessel to no avail — everyone assumed she was dead. Two days later, the 32-year-old was spotted floating in the East China Sea off the coast of Zhoushan. The woman, identified only as Fan, fell overboard after peering over the edge to look at the water. She managed to stay afloat for 38 hours even after falling asleep. The fisherman who found her said she was in stable condition and had only minor injuries to her arms from jellyfish stings.
On the evening of March 6, 2018, a teen on the deck of the Norwegian Epic hopped atop the railing to snap a selfie. After losing her balance, she fell overboard into the ocean off the coast of the Bahamas. Multiple passersby heard the unidentified person crying out for help, and one passenger, Kareen Kennedy, ran back to her room to pray for the woman’s safety. Although it was dark out and the waters were rough, she was saved by a search and rescue crew aboard the ship, which promptly docked at Port Canaveral in Florida so she could receive medical attention on shore.
On September 2, 2009, at 11:15 p.m., a couple started arguing on the balcony of their Carnival Sensation stateroom. The unidentified 34-year-old man threatened to jump, and the woman called his bluff by replying, “Go ahead.” Apparently not one to be called a liar by his wife, the unidentified male leapt into the water from the sixth-deck suite. Numerous witnesses heard the event transpire, and immediately called for help and tossed life preservers to the man. Ninety minutes later, he was plucked from the waters about 28 miles east of Port St. Lucie, Florida, by the crew of the Disney Wonder, which also happened to be in the area at the time. “Two things saved his life,” Johnny Gonzalez of the U.S. Coast Guard explained. “He knew how to swim and hold on to hope, and he was wearing a white T-shirt beneath a full moon,” which made it easier for rescuers to see him. Although the man apparently suffered from severe depression, he was “beaming — big smile all over his face” after the rescue, the ship’s captain said. “I think he obviously regrets what had happened,” he added.
Just three hours after the Norwegian Spirit set sail from New Orleans on June 12, 2011, a man went overboard into the waters of the mighty Mississippi River. Luckily for him, 16-year-old Alex Giffel saw the whole thing, threw a life ring, and instructed his 21-year-old cousin to alert the crew. A rescue boat soon pulled the man to safety and he was treated for minor injuries. A month later, Norwegian and the Port of New Orleans recognized Giffel’s actions with a ceremony aboard the Spirit. As a thank you, Capt. Evans Hoyt presented the teen with two plaques and the life ring he used to save his fellow passenger.
When Frank Jade fell off the deck of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas on January 8, 2015, nobody noticed that one of the ship’s 6,360 passengers had gone missing. Things were looking grim for the 22-year-old American tourist, who could only watch helplessly as his ship sailed away. Miraculously, Jade was later spotted by passengers sailing the same route on the appropriately titled Disney Magic cruise ship, and Tom Parsons (a fire chief from Ithaca, New York) threw him several buoys. The vessel lowered its rescue boat and picked Jade up, treated him, and docked at Punta Langosta, Mexico, so he could receive additional medical care. Jade said a wave had knocked him overboard about eight miles off the coast of Cozumel. Royal Caribbean was criticized for not noticing the missing man and not complying with the 2010 Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act, which requires the installation of automatic man overboard systems.
In 2007, a pair of 20-year-olds on spring break allegedly decided to reenact the “King of the World” scene from Titanic and, as you can probably guess, they plunged into the water surrounding their Grand Princess cruise ship. Although the two bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico for four hours, they luckily didn’t continue the film tribute with one of them freezing to death in the water, and the Coast Guard eventually rescued the couple. Curiously, the man was found completely naked, but he claims he took his clothes off after falling in the water to help him swim. Perhaps they were actually reenacting a different iconic scene from Titanic. (“Rescue me like one of your French girls...”)
Shutterstock/ Ruth Peterkin
In the early hours of June 15, 2009, a pilot boat rescued 46-year-old Larry Miller, who had been clinging to a water marker about one mile southeast of Mullet Key near Fort De Soto Park in Florida. The man had been there for almost three hours, having fallen after he climbed over a railing of the Carnival Inspiration (which failed to notice that he fell or was missing) to get a better view. Ironically, the view Miller was seeking was of another passing pilot boat.
Cruise Critic staff writer Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis has been on a countless number of cruises — both as a ship staff member and the wife of a Celebrity Cruise captain — and has seen it all. In one of her articles, she described the tale of a man overboard situation that didn’t make the major media. In 1992, aboard the legendary Britanis, the captain noticed an 18-year-old passenger acting strangely and began talking to him. When it was clear the young man wasn’t thinking straight, the captain grabbed him, but the passenger pulled away, ran out the door, and left over the railing. Lifeboats from the Britanis and a nearby Norwegian ship eventually found the missing man thanks to a calm sea, clear skies, a full moon, and some skillful searching. It turns out the man had consumed both drugs and alcohol and wrongfully believed the ship was in the midst of a mutiny.
In December 2009, while Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas was making the short journey from Miami to Key West, crew member Robert Mado plunged overboard. The ship’s captain immediately sent out a distress call to the Coast Guard, who found and rescued Mado in the Biscayne Bay waters about two hours later. He was about five miles off the coast of Cutler Bay and was in good condition, Petty Officer Barry Bena said. Witnesses said the 31-year-old purposely jumped from the ship, but these claims were not confirmed.
In October 2012, 31-year-old Sarah Kirby tumbled off the Carnival Destiny and fell 100 feet into ocean, hitting a life raft on the way down. “I remember leaning over the balcony to look at the side of the ship, and the next thing I knew, I was in the water,” Kirby told ABC News. What this quote doesn’t reflect is the fact that Kirby was positively plastered at the time of the incident. She was thankfully rescued, but we’re not so sure Kirby saw it that way. She sued Carnival for overserving her and for not rescuing her quickly enough. Compared to other passengers’ tales, the 90 minutes she spent in the water was actually relatively short.
At 6:10 a.m. on February 23, 2005, a man was spotted by cruise ship workers as he fell from the deck of the Crystal Harmony. “A few of our galley crew saw a body fall past them and into the water and they immediately advised the bridge and threw a life ring,” a spokeswoman for Crystal Cruises said. They also tossed down a smoke canister to help locate the middle-aged man in the Mexican waters, about 100 miles south of Ensenada. The giant, 50,000-ton vessel turned around, lowered its tiny tender boat, and retrieved the man, who was treated for hypothermia. The rescue took 30 minutes and numerous veteran passengers realized the problem when the captain declared a “Code Oscar” over the ship’s speaker system. He later announced the successful rescue to the Harmony’s 900 passengers. The unidentified man, who was traveling alone, was turned over to police in San Diego, who questioned and released him without an arrest. The fall was apparently an accident.
It’s like something out of a scary movie: “I’m coming to in the middle of the water and there’s no ship around and it’s total, total darkness,” recalled 33-year-old Tim Sears. However, this predicament wasn’t a total mystery. Sears clearly fell off his Carnival Celebration cruise ship, he just doesn’t recall how. “Last thing I remember, I was looking for my friend in the casino,” the Michigan man recalled, stating that he was drunk at the time, but didn’t believe he was blackout drunk. Either way, Sears paid for it, bobbing around in the ocean with no shoes or pants for 17 hours before his salt water-filled, sunburned, but still breathing body was brought aboard a foreign cargo ship heading for Texas. Sears has since made a full recovery — but his memories of the 2003 incident remain a mystery.
As satisfying as the feeling of freedom may be, please, folks, don’t urinate over the side of a cruise ship — especially after already having climbed over a four-and-a-half-foot-tall railing into a restricted area. Yet, this is exactly what an unidentified 23-year-old spring-breaker drunkenly did on a Carnival Cruise in 1996, which resulted in him slipping and falling 76 feet into the San Juan, Puerto Rico, harbor. In response, the Coast Guard and cruise launched a full-scale rescue with boats and helicopters, only to come up empty. This story has a happy ending though, as the man was found on a beach in San Juan more than 10 hours later. Banged up but generally OK, the partier had swum the four miles back to the coast in order to rescue himself.
As a reminder, these instances are in fact extremely rare. But if cruises aren’t for you or you are hesitant about traveling across the open sea, enjoy shallow water on land at the 30 best hotel pools in America instead.
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