Coast Guard rescues overboard cruise passenger in ‘Thanksgiving Miracle’


In a rescue operation that US Coast Guard officials are calling the “Miracle of Thanksgiving,” a helicopter crew rescued a 28-year-old man Thursday night after he fell overboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship and spent a day in the Gulf had swum from Mexico.

Coast Guard officials in New Orleans received a call about a missing passenger on the Carnival Valor at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, according to a news release from the Public Affairs Office of the Coast Guard’s 8th District. A lifeguard aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter secured him about 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, La., around 8:25 p.m. Thursday. The man was last seen aboard the cruise ship around 11 p.m. Wednesday, the Coast Guard said, meaning he could have been walking in place all night and most of Thanksgiving.

“This is an exceptionally rare case,” Ryan Graves, a public affairs corporal for the 8th Circuit, told the Washington Post. “It really is nothing short of a Thanksgiving miracle to be able to lift someone up after so long in the water without any sort of flotation device.”

Graves said the man was in stable condition when he was rescued and was able to give his name to the team on board the helicopter. The Coast Guard transported him to the emergency services waiting at New Orleans Lakefront Airport.

The US Coast Guard rescued a cruise passenger who had fallen overboard near Southwest Pass, La. on November 24. (Video: Courtesy of the US Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard also used a 45-foot rescue boat from Venice, La., and a fixed-wing aircraft from Mobile, Alabama, in its search. Commercial sailors on the bulk carrier CRINIS told the Coast Guard they saw a man in the water, and are helping the helicopter crew locate him.

“We are extremely grateful that this case ended in a positive outcome,” said Lt. Seth Gross, a search and rescue mission coordinator for the New Orleans sector, in a press release. “It took the entire team effort of Coast Guard Sentinels, responders and our professional maritime partners operating in the Gulf of Mexico to locate and bring the missing person to safety.”

“Actually, that’s why we joined to do things like this,” Graves said. “On a holiday like this, it’s good to bring him back to his family.” Carnival Cruise Line officials declined to give details of what the passenger was doing before he fell overboard, but expressed gratitude for the rescue .

“We greatly appreciate the efforts of everyone, especially the U.S. Coast Guard and the sailor who spotted the guest in the water,” Matt Lupoli, Carnival Cruise Line’s senior manager of public relations, said in an email.

Chris Chiames, the company’s chief communications officer, said in an email that cruise ship safety barriers are regulated by Coast Guard standards to prevent falls. “Guests should never climb the rails,” Chiames said. “The only way to go overboard is to purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers.”


An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Coast Guard received a call about a missing passenger on Wednesday afternoon. It was Thursday.

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