"" Writer's Wanderings: Millenium Cruise Tragedy

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Millenium Cruise Tragedy

We have just returned from our South American/Panama Canal cruise aboard the Celebrity Millenium. I meant to post while we were gone, but I left my password at home and for some reason my computer would not remember it for me. Can computers have senior moments?

At our first port, Arica, Chile, a group of passengers arranged a tour with a local company to go into the national park in the mountains just outside the city. Tragically, on a narrow winding road, their van swerved to miss on oncoming truck and went off the road, tumbling down an embankment for about 300 feet and killing 12 of the 16 passengers.

We had no idea what was wrong as we waited for the ship's crew to cast off the lines that evening so we could make our way to Callao, Peru. As passengers began to gather to watch the ship's departure, rumors began to circulate that there had been an accident. There are always rumors abounding when there is a change in schedule and we didn't take them seriously until we began to see more official cars arrive and cruise staff (we later learned a doctor and nurse) leave the ship with suitcases.

About two hours past our scheduled departure time, the ship's captain informed us that there had been a tragic accident and 11 people had died (one more passed away in the hospital). The details began to filter through. One man recounted having seen the van at the bottom of the embankment when their tour bus had returned down the same road.

It began to sink in.

There but for the grace of God...

While we had not been on the same tour--ours was an excursion to a coastal walk, arranged through the cruise company--it could still have been the scenario for us. We might have done the same thing had we not chosen the coastal walk instead. We love to explore parks and nature rather than the cities.

The ship was quiet that night. The nightly entertainment was canceled. No one would have attended the show. Many were lined up at the computer centers aboard ship. All with the same idea. The news media would be broadcasting with no names mentioned and there would be hundreds of families wondering if their loved ones were okay. Thankfully, I had wireless on my laptop and didn't have to wait long to let our children and family know we were all right. The messages, I hear, arrived just before or after they received the news.

We stayed the night docked at Arica until arrangements were in place with families and friends of those who died and the officials cleared the ship to leave after their investigation into the accident. The Millenium crew and the Celebrity Cruise company were outstanding in their handling of the situation as far as we could tell. While due respect was given to those who lost their lives--a room was arranged for any who desired to pray or meditate and counselors were available--the cruise was not given a melancholy atmosphere. Passengers went on to enjoy their vacation time but stopped for a memorial service the following week to remember those whose lives had come to such an abrupt end.

I'm sure that this week as we all return home, we will hug our families a little tighter and feel a little more thankful.

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