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'Truly a miracle' Missing Carnival Valor passenger found alive after 15 hours in Gulf of Mexico

A spokesperson for Carnival said a guest was reported missing around noon on Thanksgiving while the ship was on its way to Cozumel.

NEW ORLEANS — A missing passenger who went overboard from the Carnival Valor was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after spending at least 15 hours in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Carnival Cruise Line tells WWL-TV that the 28-year-old man was reported missing around noon on Thursday while the ship was on its way to Cozumel. The missing man was with his sister at a bar Wednesday evening and left around 11 p.m. to use the restroom. The man did not return to his stateroom that evening, and his sister reported him missing the next morning.

The cruise line said it made announcements over the ship's intercoms, and passengers reported security searching the ship with a photo of the missing man on their phones. The Valor then began retracing her route to support search and rescue efforts.

Around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, the USCG launched several rescue crews to search for the missing man and issued an alert to nearby ships to be on the lookout for someone in the water. 

USCG Lt. Seth Gross, a Sector New Orleans search and rescue mission coordinator, said the Carnival Valor had traveled 200 miles into the Gulf of Mexico since the missing passenger was last seen. That translated to a search area of more than 7,000 square nautical miles - roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts.

About six hours later, a cargo ship identified as CRINIS spotted a person in the water about 20 miles south of Southwest Pass, La., and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew hoisted the man onto the helicopter. Lt. Gross said the man was responsive, was able to confirm his identity and that he was the missing Valor passenger. 

"He appeared to be suffering from mild hypothermia, shock, dehydration, but his condition overall appeared stable," Lt. Gross said.

The man was taken to awaiting medical personnel at New Orleans Lakefront Airport.  As of Friday afternoon, the USCG said the man is still in stable condition.

"I will say one of the highlights of my Coast Guard career was calling the family who was onboard the Carnival Valor to letting them know their son was alive and en route to additional medical care," Lt. Gross said. "Truly just a miracle especially on a holiday like Thanksgiving where it's predominantly around family and spending time together."

“We are beyond grateful that this case ended with a positive outcome," said Lt. Gross. "It took a total team effort from Coast Guard watchstanders, response crews, and our professional maritime partners operating in the Gulf of Mexico to locate the missing individual and get him to safety. If not for the alert crew aboard the motor vessel Crinis, this case could have had a much more difficult ending.”

The ship departed from New Orleans on November 23, bound for stops in Cozumel and Progreso on its five-day cruise. The ship is set to return to Port NOLA on November 28.

The missing man’s name has not been released.

This is not the first person to go missing from the Carnival Valor this year. In February, a 32-year-old woman jumped overboard 150 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

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