Photography: David Grunfeld/AP
In what some officials called a “Thanksgiving miracle” Thursday night, a passenger was rescued from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico after falling off a cruise ship overboard, the US Coast Guard (USCG) announced.
At 8:25 p.m. Thursday, the Coast Guard located a 28-year-old man at sea about 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, Louisiana, after he apparently fell aboard the Carnival Valor cruise ship from New Orleans to Mexico Wednesday evening.
In a statement to CNN, Carnival officials said the man was reported missing on Thanksgiving after he wandered off from his sister at an onboard bar the night before at 11 p.m., likely to use the bath.
He never returned, prompting his sister to notify staff members the next day. CNN reports that numerous announcements were made throughout the ship for the man to check in with customer service, but to no avail.
At around 2:30 pm Thursday, the cruise ship notified the coast guard about the missing passenger.
“Sector observers from the New Orleans Coast Guard received a call from Carnival Valor at approximately 2:30 pm Thursday that a passenger aboard the cruise ship was missing. Observers then coordinated the launch of several rescue teams to begin searches,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Rescue teams included a boat from Venice, Florida, a helicopter based in New Orleans, as well as airplanes from Clearwater, Florida and Mobile, Alabama, Lt. Seth Gross, a USCG search and rescue coordinator, told CNN. .
The more than 200-mile search was complicated by the time difference between when the passenger was last seen and when the Coast Guard was alerted. “We knew communication with sailors in the Gulf of Mexico would be key, Gross said.
Six hours later, crew members of the Crinis vessel discovered “a person in the water,” the USCG said.
The person turned out to be the missing passenger.
The Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew promptly “directed to the area… hoisted the man into the helicopter and transferred him to await emergency medical services at New Orleans Lakefront Airport ,” the USCG said.
“He was able to identify his name, he confirmed that he was the individual who fell overboard,” Gross told CNN. “He was showing signs of hypothermia, shock, dehydration” but the Coast Guard said he was in stable condition late Friday morning.
“The fact that I was able to keep afloat and above the surface of the water for such a long period of time is just something you can’t take for granted and definitely something that will stay with me forever,” he said. Gross said, adding that Thursday night water temperatures in the gulf were just above 70F (21C).
Gross added, “The will to live is something you have to factor into any search and rescue case. This is one of the longest ever [times in the water] I’ve heard of one of those Thanksgiving miracles.