Royal Caribbean Allure of the Sea cruise ship: Search still on for cruise ship passenger lost at sea

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A Coast Guard search still was under way Tuesday for a 21-year-old cruise ship passenger who disappeared from a cruise ship about 47 miles east of Fort Lauderdale.

The Allure of the Seas notified Coast Guard Sector Miami about the emergency two hours after the passenger fell overboard Sunday night, but several emergency steps were taken by the crewmembers during that time to verify a passenger had disappeared, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Sabrina Elgammal.

The Allure of the Seas, able to carry 5,400 passengers, had initially found surveillance video of the missing Bartlett, Tenn., woman going into her stateroom, Elgammal said. Crewmembers talked to "the woman's mother and they were interviewing her about where could she be," Elgammal said.

The ship called all passengers together, possibly rousing some from sleep, to count them and "see if she was on board," Elgammal said. "It took quite some time."

About 9:25 p.m. Sunday, a passenger on Deck 10 reported that she thought she saw someone go overboard, according to Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez. Crewmembers made public announcements about the woman's disappearance and searched the vessel.

"Before we can inform Coast Guard and they commit to sending assets to help search, we must be certain that someone has gone overboard," Martinez said. "To do this, the ship made multiple announcements and began to review the (closed-circuit television) footage. Once we were able to locate the incident on the recording and could confirm someone went overboard, we notified Coast Guard."

From the video, cruise ship crewmembers pinpointed the exact time and location using the ship's GPS and provided that information to the Coast Guard, Martinez said. "The process of ensuring the guest is not onboard (by making announcements) and reviewing the security footage takes some time," she said.

The ship captain, with the aid of GPS, returned the vessel to the area where the woman disappeared. Two other cruise ships helped the Allure of the Seas perform a search.

About 3:30 a.m. Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard took full control of the search, Royal Caribbean said.

The Coast Guard's search involved four aircraft crews and a cutter crew, covered about 320 square miles and was expected to keep going "until we've exhausted all our assets," Elgammal said. The woman's name hasn't been released.

It was the latest search performed by the Coast Guard, which tries to find overboard passengers several times each year, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jon-Paul Rios. "It happens throughout the year, and it's not uncommon," he said.

So far this year, including Sunday's incident, 13 passengers and crewmembers have fallen or jumped overboard from cruise ships and ferries worldwide, according to data compiled on CruiseJunkie.com, a cruise industry-focused website. Over the years, several cases have been alcohol-related, suicides or they remain mysteries.

Sunday, Allure of the Seas kicked off a seven-night Caribbean itinerary and started sailing from Port Everglades to the Bahamas.

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek and staff writer Arlene Satchell contributed to this report.

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