Carnival Cruise Line said the man was at a bar on the cruise ship until around 11 p.m. on Wednesday, when he left to use the bathroom. He never returned. His sister assumed he went back to his room. She reported him missing the next day.
The cruise ship was thoroughly searched for the man, but he was nowhere to be found. The Carnival Valor crew notified the Coast Guard of the missing man at approximately 2:30 p.m.
The Coast Guard dispatched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, a 45-foot response boat, and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane to attempt to locate the man. The search extended more than 200 miles in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Coast Guard received a tip from a large carrier ship that a person was in the water roughly 20 miles south of the Southwest Pass in Louisiana.
At 8:25 p.m. on Thursday, the Jayhawk aircrew spotted the man in the water. Video shows the man waving his arms to draw their attention. The Coast Guard crew were able to rescue the man – who was responsive.
Lt. Seth Gross – a Sector New Orleans search and rescue mission coordinator – said that the man was "showing signs of hypothermia, shock, dehydration" but could walk and communicate.
Gross told CNN, "He was able to identify his name, confirmed that he was the individual that fell overboard."
The helicopter transferred him to emergency medical services at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. The man was last reported in stable condition.
“We are beyond grateful that this case ended with a positive outcome," said Gross. "It took a total team effort from Coast Guard watchstanders, response crews, and our professional maritime partners operating in the Gulf of Mexico to locate the missing individual and get him to safety. If not for the alert crew aboard the motor vessel CRINIS, this case could have had a much more difficult ending.”
Gross said that the man "gave no really no clear indication of why he fell overboard or what time specifically."
"We have not been able to confirm when he entered the water, so we're under the assumption [that] any point from Wednesday on, he could have entered the waterway," Gross explained. "He realistically could have been in the water for 15+ hours before we were able to successfully rescue him."
Gross noted that 15 hours in open waters would be the "absolute longest" that he's ever heard about in his 17-year career, and was a "Thanksgiving miracle" that the overboard cruise passenger survived.
"The fact that he was able to keep himself afloat and above the surface of the water for such an extended period of time, it's just something you can't take for granted and certainly something that'll stick with me forever," Gross said
"I think it kind of blows the norm, the normalcy, out of the water here, and really just shows the will to live is something that you need to account for in every search-and-rescue case," Gross stated.
Coast Guard footage shows rescue of overboard Carnival cruise ship passengerwww.youtube.com