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Sunday, April 24, 2011

British cruise ship passenger, 73, dies in hospital after being dropped into icy seas during botched rescue

By Mail On Sunday Reporter

Botched rescue: Janet Richardson has passed away in hospital after being dropped in icy waters during an accident at sea, Her husband George was at her side

A cruise ship passenger who was dropped into the freezing Arctic Ocean during a botched rescue attempt has died in hospital, it was confirmed last night.

Janet Richardson, 73, passed away today at Cumberland Infirmary, where she was taken on Thursday after the accident. Her husband George, 78, was at her side.

The grandmother, from near Penrith, was aboard the Ocean Countess cruise liner on a trip along the coast of Norway when she was taken ill with internal bleeding and had to be taken ashore.

However, as she was being transferred into a lifeboat to be taken to hospital, she plunged into the sub-zero waters.

Ordeal: The poorly pensioner desperately tried to keep afloat while horrified onlookers watched from above

The ship’s captain had been so concerned about her condition that he decided she needed urgent medical treatment and would have to be taken to a hospital immediately.

He radioed the authorities on the Norwegian mainland and they launched a rescue operation.

Within minutes a lifeboat had pulled up alongside the Ocean Countess and Mrs Richardson was placed on a stretcher.

But as she was passed from the Ocean Countess to the waiting lifeboat the two boats moved apart from one another and Mrs Richardson was suddenly dropped into the icy sea – which was as cold as -3C (27F).

They then took an astonishing four minutes to pull her to safety. The horrifying events were captured on film by a stunned passenger on the icy deck above. His extraordinary pictures show Mrs Richardson struggling to stay afloat in the freezing water.

Mrs Richardson was being moved from the cruise ship to a rescue boat on a stretcher when she was dropped

Mrs Richardson, who was wearing a lifebelt during the rescue attempt, was eventually hauled back on to the lifeboat and transported to Bodo, just north of the Arctic Circle.

But at the dockside she stopped breathing and was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before being taken to a nearby hospital where she was put under sedation.

She was then airlifted to the Cumberland Hospital in Carlisle, Cumbria, where her devastated husband kept a bedside vigil in the intensive care unit.

Before her death, the retired farmer from Penrith spoke of the moment he watched his wife fall into the sea and disappear from view on what was meant to have been the cruise of a lifetime.

‘When they tried to move her on to the lifeboat the ship was still moving,’ Mr Richardson said. 'They tried to keep the lifeboat close to the side but suddenly its rear end moved away from the main ship.

Too long: Mrs Richardson was floating in the icy seas for several minutes before she was hauled onboard again

‘There were six men on the stretcher but it went down and then Janet slipped into the sea. I just saw the end of the stretcher go in. It was very traumatic to see her fall.

'I was going to go with her once they got her out but they decided they'd better get her to the shore fast and then come back for me. They gave her mouth-to-mouth on the dockside. Her temperature was very low after being in the water, but luckily they managed to get that back up and put her under sedation for a good while.’

The couple had booked the cruise to fulfil their dreams of seeing the Northern Lights for themselves and boarded the ship in Hull on March 20. But just nine days into their 13-night voyage to the Arctic Circle disaster struck. Mrs Richardson, who suffered from diabetes, fell ill during the night on March 28.

She was examined by the ship’s doctor the following morning at 5am and transferred to the onboard hospital where she was attached to a drip.

Then, at 10.30am, the captain decided her condition had deteriorated to such an extent that they could not wait another day before making port in Alseund.

He radioed for immediate assistance and a Norwegian lifeboat was instantly launched.

‘They were originally going to use a helicopter but then they decided to use a boat instead,’ added Mr Richardson.

‘The authorities over there have said health and safety is tantamount but if they had wanted to be totally safe they could have gone into port, which would have made things safer.

‘They could have held the lifeboat to the ship with a rope or something. But they were reluctant to go into port because they were already running late and it would have cost extra and caused further delays.’

Voluntary worker Shirley Bottelfsen, 73, who is originally from Ireland but now lives in Bodo, helps out at the Norwegian hospital where Mrs Richardson was treated.

She said: 'It was a terrible experience for her, her husband and the other passengers.

'Everyone in Bodo feels very sorry for them.'

Mrs Richardson was treated in Norway and underwent brain and heart scans before being airlifted back to the UK last Wednesday.

She had a tracheotomy in her throat and could not speak and was also suspected of having kidney problems. The couple, who have both been married before, have children from previous relationships and together have a total of eight grandchildren.

A spokesman for Cruise and Maritime Voyages, which operates the service, said at the time: ‘Although we do not own this ship, we have been in contact with the ship's owners and the Norwegian rescue authorities and a full investigation into the incident is taking place.

‘We take the safety and comfort of our passengers very seriously, and although the actual logistics of the rescue was in the hands of the Norwegian rescue team, we will assist the investigation fully.’

The ship is owned by Majestic International Cruises.



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