December 10, 2001
Passengers on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas got a bit more excitement than they bargained for on a sea-day last Saturday. The ship, in the middle of the surprisingly vast Gulf of Mexico on its way back to its Galveston homeport after a week sailing the western Caribbean had a medical emergency. A 74-year old passenger had suffered a stroke and possible heart attack. Being too far from Mobile, Alabama, the nearest possible, the captain called on the U.S. Coast Guard. Just before noon passengers were evacuated from the ship's upper decks, including the observatory-like Viking Crown Lounge, the kid-oriented Adventure Ocean and the two pool areas -- not to mention the Windjammer Cafe, which had just started serving lunch. A Coast Guard helicopter arrived, hovering over the ship while a serviceman shimmied down a rope and landed cat-like on the sun deck. Next to follow was a stretcher-sized basket, which would be used to hoist the passenger up into the chopper. First, though, the ship's nurse, who accompanied the passenger, was lifted up in a basket seat, then the ill cruiser and finally the Coast Guardsmen and the helicopter swung around and headed to Mobile, about a half-hour's flight. Reports from ship's officers and the passenger's husband, who was left onboard because there was no additional room in the chopper, and who planned to fly from Galveston to Mobile when the ship docked Sunday morning, indicated she is recovering. Dramatic, yes, but the U.S. Coast Guard, which is perhaps better known as the cruise industry's safety standards watchdog, has performed even more dramatic rescue operations. A year ago, at just about this time, the once-attached-to-Premier's Sea Breeze, which had only recently been grounded when lenders pulled their support from the cruise line, was sailing from the northeast to the Bahamas when it began taking on water east of North Carolina. The U.S. Coast Guard sent two HH-60 helicopters and two C-130 Hercules aircraft to rescue all 34 passengers; the ship, alas, sank to the bottom of the sea.