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WOMAN OVERBOARD RESCUED AFTER 12 HOURS

March 7, 2002 – A crew member aboard the cruise ship Norway was sitting on a railing smoking a cigarette Monday night when she lost her balance and fell 40 feet into the sea. Against all odds, her story has a happy ending.
The 24-year-old Romanian woman treaded water in seas with up to 8-foot swells in the Bahamas for more than 12 hours until lookouts on the cruise ship spotted her Tuesday morning, according to Svein Sleipnes, vice president for nautical affairs for Norwegian Cruise Line, which owns the Norway.
She later told rescuers that she had seen a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and the cruise ship pass by several times in the night but was unable to attract their attention on the dark seas, Sleipnes said Wednesday.
"I would say she was very, very lucky, especially because the water was rough," Sleipnes, who helped coordinate the search-and-rescue effort, said. "It probably helped her that she could see the ship."
According to Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman Susan Robison, the woman declined to speak with reporters and asked the company not to release her name. She was badly shaken up by the ordeal and will return to Romania to spend time with her family, Robison said.
The woman told rescuers she had been sitting on the railing when she lost her balance and went overboard into the water. The ship was cruising about 135 miles northeast of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, Robison said. The woman was dehydrated and exhausted when she was rescued but appeared to be recovering well, Robison added.
The Norway had been bound for St. Martin on its regular weekly cruise that departs Miami and makes stops at a private Bahamian island, St. Martin and St. Thomas. After staying in the overboard area for more than 12 hours, the vessel changed course, dropping St. Martin from the itinerary, and sailed directly to the Virgin Islands. It anchored off St. John around 1 p.m. Wednesday, a West Indian Co. operations official said, then called at the port of St. Thomas as usual Thursday morning.
Passengers aboard the Norway said Thursday that the woman had appeared tired but strong when she was brought back aboard the cruise ship about 11 a.m. Tuesday. She was able to hold onto a flotation device thrown to her by rescuers and then pulled herself into a small rescue boat, they said.
"She looked amazingly strong. She was still kicking," said Don Weeks, a passenger who witnessed the rescue. "We're all just happy to have the woman safe."
It was at about 10:15 p.m. Monday that fellow crew members reported the woman missing, Sleipnes said. A search of the ship turned up her keys and a pack of cigarettes on a deck about 40 feet above the water, he said.
The ship immediately launched a search in a swath of about 25 nautical miles that the ship had covered between about 9 p.m. Monday, when the woman was last seen, and the time she was reported missing, Sleipnes said. And the Coast Guard developed a search pattern based on wind conditions and the westerly current in that area of the Bahamas.
When the Norway came upon her, the woman had drifted about 4½ miles west of the ship's course, Robison said. The seas had about 3-foot swells when she was found, and passengers said there were still whitecaps on the waves.
A person could stay alive for about 30 to 35 hours in the approximately 75-degree water in the area before succumbing to hypothermia, Sleipnes said, but it would be difficult to keep afloat for more than about 12 hours in rough seas.
"It's amazing that they found her, one in a million," said Andy Steeno, a passenger on the Norway. "After 12 hours out there, hey, I give her credit."

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