Sick Cruise Passenger Dropped Into Below-Freezing Water

April 21, 2011
(11:42 a.m. EDT) -- An ill passenger on Cruise & Maritime Voyages' Ocean Countess was dropped into sub-zero waters while she was being transported by stretcher from the ship to a rescue boat, reports The Guardian. While the passenger survived, she remains in intensive care some three weeks after the March 29 incident.

According to the Daily Mail Online, 73-year-old Janet Richardson fell ill with internal bleeding during a 13-night Northern Lights and Arctic Circle cruise in late March, and the ship's captain decided she would get better care if she was transferred to an onshore hospital in Bodo, Norway. However, as Richardson was moved from ship to rescue boat, the two vessels moved apart, causing the rescue team to drop the stretcher into the North Sea, which was about -3 degrees C (27 degrees F) at the time. Richardson was in the water for several minutes -- The Guardian reports that it was eight; the Daily Mail says 4 -- until the rescuers could help her into the boat. She was wearing a life jacket, which may have helped save her life.

The Daily Mail reports that once on the dock she stopped breathing and needed to be resuscitated. The woman, accompanied by her husband, eventually made it to the hospital where she was treated before being airlifted to Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle, U.K. Mr. Richardson told the Daily Mail that the rescue team had originally intended to use a helicopter for the transfer, and that the ship also could have returned to port. Both options were turned down for a sea rescue, he said.

According to a statement by the cruise line, "The incident is subject to an ongoing formal investigation by the ship owners and Norwegian Rescue Authorities. Cruise and Maritime Voyages, the cruise operators, have been assured that the incident is being fully investigated to establish how the accident occurred." Chris Coates, marketing director, is also quoted, saying, "Our heartfelt sympathies are with Mrs. Richardson and her family after what must have been a traumatic experience.... We would like to reassure all of our passengers that health and safety is of paramount importance to Cruise and Maritime Voyages and we will of course be cooperating fully with the investigation which is still ongoing at this time." --by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor