Horrified Royal Caribbean cruise passengers wailed under a dark sky as a man plummeted into the Atlantic on Friday morning after deliberately going over ship's edge and then overboard en route to Fort Lauderdale.
The U.S.Coast Guard (USCG) searched Friday for the passenger of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Oasis of the Seas. The man fell overboard at about 1 a.m. while the vessel was traveling 17 miles east of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the cruise line said.
The 35-year-old man, who had been on the seventh deck of the vessel, apparently jumped into a lifeboat one deck below, the Coast Guard said. He is identified as a Brazilian national.
"He was spotted by Oasis of the Seas crew members intentionally going over the side of the ship," Royal Caribbean Cruises spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an email.
A video posted on YouTube showed passengers calling to the man, who held on to a lifeboat as the sea churned below.
A crowd of bystanders watched as he continued talking to someone on board, "Because of you, this happened. ... I'm not going anywhere. ... Let go of me! Get off of me!"
The man, wearing a red swimsuit or shorts, appeared to try and pull himself up onto the edge of the lifeboat. But he seemed to lose his grip or slipped on the boat surface before plummeting into the ocean.
A woman passenger shouted, "He's there, he's there! Get the life thing, throw it over!"
The video was later removed from YouTube. On Periscope, another social media app that offers live broadcasts, a passenger recorded the ship's captain sharing details of the tragic incident during an interactive cruise event.
Upon learning of the man going overboard, the Oasis of the Seas turned around and 20-foot rescue boats were lowered to search for the man, the captain said. The Coast Guard was called and other nearby ships were also alerted, he said.
The captain went on to describe challenging conditions while the search was underway — swells of 6 to 7 feet, rainy weather and poor visibility.
"It is very tragic, especially for the next-of-kin person on board still," the captain said. "Also [for] a crew that was dealing directly with the person that was holding him, trying desperately to save him and he just slipped out of their hands."
The affected crew members will have access to counselors after the ship arrives at Port Everglades on Saturday, he said. The cruise ship departed the port Oct. 31.
Cruise passengers used social media to transmit updates on the search and images from the vessel.
A tweet shortly after 6 a.m. indicated that it was light and that at least two rescue boats could be seen searching the water for the passenger. A tweet from about 3 a.m. read, "Horrible rain hampering rescue efforts."
Shortly after 6 a.m., a Coast Guard plane arrived and the ship was allowed to continue toward Fort Lauderdale, the captain said. The Coast Guard continued searching with aircraft deployed from the Clearwater air station, Petty Officer David Schuhlein said.
"We have one aircraft with seven crew members on it that took off this morning at 4 a.m., and they're flying all the low search patterns in the area," he said. "So we have one C-130 and one helicopter in the air."
As the search continued, the cruise line said it was comforting the missing passenger's relatives. "Our care team is providing support to the guest's family and our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time," Martinez said.
According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney, the man's partner was aboard the ship during the incident.
Searchers are focusing in the area where the ship's crew estimated the man went overboard, Schuhlein said. The Turks and Caicos are in the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Dominican Republic.
Detectives from the Broward Sheriff's Office will handle the missing-person investigation and will meet the ship upon its arrival at the port.
One of the world's largest cruise ships, the Oasis of the Seas is more than 1,100 feet long and weighs more than 225,000 tons. It is returning from a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean.
Its base has been Port Everglades since 2009, but it is scheduled to move to Port Canaveral, along the central Florida coast, in 2016.