Overboard cruise passenger spent hours in Gulf of Mexico before he was rescued

A man who went overboard during a holiday cruise in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued after several hours in the water off New Orleans, authorities said Friday.

The 28-year-old, who was not publicly identified, may have been in the water for at least six hours when he was plucked from the sea Thursday. He was rescued about 20 miles south of Louisiana’s Southwest Pass, where the Mississippi River meets the coast, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

The man’s survival was hailed as unlikely and possibly miraculous given the time he may have been in the water. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Graves said the man did not have a flotation device, and survival at sea without one is unlikely.

“It makes it more miraculous that we were able to find him conscious and treading water,” Graves said.

The cruise ship passenger man was last seen on board the Mexico-bound Carnival Valor about 11 p.m. Wednesday, Graves said.

Coast Guard rescue crews pulled the man to safety six hours after receiving a 2:30 p.m. Thursday report of a passenger overboard, Graves said.

It’s not clear how or when the man went overboard. Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement that an accidental fall into the water would be rare and physically challenging.

“Cruise ships have safety barriers in all public areas that are regulated by U.S. Coast Guard standards that prevent a guest from falling off,” it said Friday. “Guests should never ever climb up on the rails. The only way to go overboard is to purposefully climb up and over the safety barriers.”  

Night video from Coast Guard aircraft appears to show the man struggling in relatively calm but active seas, where his head dipped below the surface with every wave. The agency said in a statement the passenger was “responsive” when the crew on board a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter reached him.

Surface temperatures in the gulf are roughly 70 degrees, Gross said. Data from coastal monitors, buoys and oil platforms collected by federal forecasters and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography measured water temperatures Friday from 63 degrees near the shore at Southwest Pass, to 70 and higher at sea.

Graves noted that in early October even some of the warmest seasonal waters challenged three men who spent 28 hours at sea, 25 miles off the Louisiana coast, after the boat they were using capsized in rough seas.

The water was warm, he said, but the the trio was beset by signs of hypothermia when they were rescued by Coast Guard crews Oct. 9. 

The average October sea temperature near shore at Mobile State Docks, Alabama, is nearly 77; it was slightly higher than 62 there Friday, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Experts have suggested survival in water 60 degrees or cooler is not likely after six hours, but warmer water can extend chances of making it. Cold shock, swimming failure, and hypothermia can open the pathways to death, including drowning and cardiac arrest.

TJ Swigart contributed.

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