In what some officials were hailing as a “Thanksgiving miracle” a passenger was rescued from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday evening after falling overboard from a cruise ship, the US coast guard (USCG) announced.
At 8.25pm on Thursday, the coast guard located a 28-year-old man in the sea about 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, Louisiana, after he apparently fell overboard the New Orleans-to-Mexico Carnival Valor cruise ship on Wednesday evening.
In a statement to CNN, Carnival officials said the man was reported missing on Thanksgiving Day after he walked away from his sister at an onboard bar the night before at 11pm – likely to use the bathroom.
He never returned, prompting his sister to alert staff members the next day. CNN reports that numerous announcements were made throughout the ship for the man to check in with guest service, but to no avail.
At around 2.30pm on Thursday, the cruise ship alerted the coast guard about the missing passenger.
“Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received a call from the Carnival Valor at approximately 2.30pm Thursday, reporting a passenger aboard the cruise ship was missing. Watchstanders then coordinated the launch of several rescue crews to begin searching,” the coast guard said in a statement.
The rescue crews included a boat from Venice, Florida, a New Orleans-based helicopter, as well as airplanes from Clearwater, Florida and Mobile, Alabama, Lt Seth Gross, a USCG search and rescue coordinator told CNN.
The 200-plus-mile search was made complicated by the time difference between when the passenger was last seen and when the Coast Guard was alerted. “We knew that communication with the mariners in the Gulf of Mexico was going to be critical, Gross said.
Six hours later, crew members from the vessel Crinis discovered “a person in the water”, the USCG said.
The person turned out to be the missing passenger.
Aircrew from the coast guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter promptly “vectored into the area … hoisted the man on to the helicopter and transferred him to awaiting emergency medical services at the New Orleans Lakefront airport”, said the USCG.
“He was able to identify his name, confirmed that he was the individual that fell overboard,” Gross told CNN. “He was showing signs of hypothermia, shock, dehydration” but was reported to be in stable condition by the coast guard late Friday morning.
“The fact that he was able to keep himself afloat and above the surface of the water for such an extended period of time, it’s just something you can’t take for granted and certainly something that’ll stick with me forever,” Gross said, adding that the water temperature on Thursday night in the gulf was just slightly above 70F (21C).
Gross added: “The will to live is something you have to account for in every search and rescue case. This is one of the absolutely longest [times in the water] I’ve heard about and one of those Thanksgiving miracles.”