When you book a trip on a Disney cruise ship, you certainly hope you’ll have a vacation to remember. But when passengers on this Disney Magic cruise spotted something strange out in the ocean, it made for a voyage that they will never forget.
This unbelievable story began, however, aboard the Royal Caribbean International’s luxury cruiser Oasis of the Seas. Along with its sisters Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas, Oasis is one of the three largest passenger ships in the world.
In fact, in 2009 Oasis held, at 1,187 feet long, the title of world’s largest passenger ship, and it was capable of carrying up to 6,360 passengers. To put that into perspective, the vessel is five times larger than the RMS Titanic and weighs 100,000 tons – slightly more than Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the biggest warships in operation today.
All in all, Oasis took some $1.5 billion and three years to construct in Turku, Finland, while it began offering cruises in December 2009. But these are not your average cruises. After all, the immense, theme-park-like ship is divided into seven sections, called “neighborhoods,” each offering unique attractions.
Indeed, the luxury cruiser provides every sort of service and activity imaginable, including 25 dining locations, a zip line, an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing walls, a basketball court, a water park, a movie theater, Broadway musicals, spas and boutique shopping. Both Oasis and Allure also boast freshwater pools that are up to 18 feet deep.
The ship is based out of Port Everglades in southern Florida, not far from the city of Fort Lauderdale, and it takes weekly voyages stopping along the way at a select few Caribbean destinations. On January 3, 2015, then, the Oasis was set to embark on another fun-filled family vacation at sea.
Of course, the cruise was full of its normal activities during the trip, and its last port of call was Mexico’s Cozumel Island. Here, however, everything changed. Just after the ship left port on January 7, one early riser walked alone on one of the decks and fell overboard.
The Oasis’ security cameras allegedly captured video of a 22-year-old man walking alone on Deck 5 before he disappeared from view at 6:07 a.m. Strangely, though, no alert or man-overboard alarm was immediately sounded, nor did the ship stop to conduct a man-overboard maneuver. In fact, no one seemed to even noticed the man’s sudden absence; the ship continued along its course as if nothing had happened.
So, stranded some eight miles away from port, the young traveler was alone in the vast sea. Seemingly doomed to death, he must have watched desperately as the bright lights of the cruise ship steamed out of sight into the dark winter morning.
Thankfully, another cruise ship operating out of Florida was on its way to Cozumel and following the same cruise line. That’s because, like cars, commercial ships have dedicated traffic patterns that they must obey when navigating the ocean and its seas. Therefore, at 7:00 a.m., the Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic happened to cross exactly the spot where the man overboard was still treading water. Even more amazingly, an alert passenger on board the ship spotted him.
Undoubtedly, the Magic – a 964-foot liner with a passenger capacity of 2,700 people – was the man’s only hope of survival. Indeed, Alfonso Rodriguez Loaiza, captain of the Port of Cozumel, told Spanish news site Milenio that the Disney crew’s alert to authorities was the first known report that he had even gone missing.
The man was later identified as an American named Frank Jade. Fortunately for Jade, he was noticed by the sharp ears and eyes of Scott Campbell, a tourist vacationing with his family on board Magic. Campbell was out on the balcony of his cabin when he heard a strange noise.
“I heard what I thought to be a really strange-sounding bird and [saw] a little speck in the water,” Campbell told ABC News. Yet he soon realized that what he was hearing and seeing was, in fact, a young man screaming “Help me!” at the top of his lungs.
Campbell’s wife Stephanie immediately contacted the crew via the ship’s phone. Moments later, the ship’s PA system announced “Mister Mob, starboard side” – code for man-overboard on the right side of the ship.
Elsewhere, passenger David Hearn heard the announcement and knew what the code meant, so he immediately set out to the ship’s top deck. By the time he got there, the crewmembers had already lowered a lifeboat to rescue the man, but Hearn managed to capture the rest of the rescue on video.
“It was pretty surreal at first. It’s not something you expect when you go on a nice cruise,” Hearn recalled about the rescue. And while he and other passengers initially thought the man had fallen from their ship, they soon found out that he was actually from the Oasis of the Seas.
Amazingly, the 22-year-old had fallen in the water without hitting the side of the ship, or its hanging lifeboats or getting injured from the impact with the water directly. As Alfonso Rodríguez told reporters, “This man was reborn. Most people that experience that kind of fall break their neck. It’s like hitting concrete.”
Just to be safe, then, Jade was taken to a hospital on Cozumel, where he thankfully received a good bill of health. Later, he caught a flight back to the United States, no doubt grateful to the Campbell family and crew aboard Magic.
As Scott Sanders, who runs a blog about the Disney Cruise Line, said, “It’s pretty darn fortunate that they were sailing in the vicinity.” However, it could have easily all gone very badly for Jade, and the incident raises serious concerns over ship safety measures.
Indeed, maritime lawyer Jim Walker argued that safety railings and security cameras are not enough to ensure passenger safety. Cruise ships should, he said, be equipped with automatic detection systems that establish a perimeter around the given vessel and alert crew any time a passenger falls overboard. While implementing such technology may seem hyper-vigilant, considering the fact that only 243 cases of people falling overboard have been recorded since 1995, it is technology that’s now available, and it could help save lives.