The United States Coast Guard (USCG) performed an exceptional rescue on Saturday, April 29, 2023, airlifting a guest from Carnival Dream under extremely hazardous conditions.
The situation was so rough, the aircrew had to abort the first rescue attempt after being forced near the water’s surface, but a second crew was able to return when the weather eased to complete the medical evacuation.
Hazardous Conditions Cause Evacuation Abort
Carnival Dream was on the last day of an 8-night cruise when a 76-year-old man began experiencing heart attack-like symptoms. After evaluation by the onboard medical team, a request was made for medical evacuation, and the call went out at approximately 4:30 a.m. to the Coast Guard.
At the time, the ship was approximately 300 miles (483 kilometers) south of Fort Morgan, Alabama, en route to Galveston, Texas at the end of an 8-night sailing that had visited Key West, Freeport, Half Moon Cay, and Nassau. April 29 was the last full day of the cruise, and was a day at sea as the ship crossed the Gulf of Mexico.
Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile HC-144 Ocean Sentry and Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60 Jayhawk aircrews were sent to assist in the medical evacuation.
The Jayhawk crew lowered their rescue swimmer to the cruise ship, but while hoisting a cruise ship nurse as part of the evacuation team, a severe squall pummeled the helicopter, and it was forced to back off from the vessel.
Severe downwind air currents forced the helicopter perilously close to the water’s surface in extremely poor visibility, risking the safety of the aircraft and the crew onboard. The crew was able to recover, and both the Jayhawk helicopter and Ocean Sentry aircraft returned to base due to weather.
When the weather stabilized enough, a second Air Station New Orleans Jayhawk helicopter aircrew returned to the scene, hoisted the cruise guest and rescue swimmer, and transferred the patient to awaiting emergency medical services personnel at University Medical Center.
You can watch footage of the eventual rescue from the Carnival cruise ship below:
“During the rescue, the aircrew experienced severe and rapidly deteriorating weather that forced them to abort the mission,” described Cmdr. Keith Blair, commanding officer, Air Station New Orleans. “Through exceptional real-time risk management, crew resource management, and superb piloting, the aircrew was able to safely recover the aircraft and land at the air station without further incident.”
“Through continual coordination with U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District, Sector Mobile, and Aviation Training Center Mobile, Air Station New Orleans was able to later return to the cruise ship and recover the patient and rescue swimmer, delivering the patient to University Medical Center for treatment in stable condition.”
Carnival Dream was not appreciably delayed in its return to Galveston, and the ship’s next itinerary – a 6-night Western Caribbean cruise to Costa Maya, Belize City, and Cozumel – set sail as planned.
No further details about the passenger’s medical condition or name have been revealed, in order to safeguard their privacy and that of their family members and traveling companions.
The 128,250-gross-ton vessel can welcome 3,646 guests onboard at double occupancy, or as many as 4,633 passengers when fully booked with all berths filled.
Rescues Always Hazardous
While the conditions for this particular medical evacuation were exceptionally hazardous, it should be noted that all airlifts from cruise ships entail considerable risk, and are undertaken only when the onboard medical team believes it essential for a guest to receive more advanced or extensive treatment than the cruise ship can provide.
All ships are equipped with advanced medical centers, but are unable to provide long-term or extremely complex care. In those cases, a guest may be evacuated at a port of call, met by a pilot boat near a port, or airlifted if necessary.
Cruise Hive wishes all the best of recovery to every cruise guest faced with medical evacuation, and offers thanks to every aircrew, medical team member, and emergency personnel who offers care to keep all guests sailing safely.