Alaska 2016 Part 2: The Cruise – What Happens When Someone Has a Heart Attack on a Cruise Ship

Sunday, August 21, 2016       The cruise begins          

With a series of loud blasts of its horn, causing a man on shore to cover his ears,  the Noordam, our cruise ship, pulled away from the dock at Vancouver harbor.

Lots of people apparently like to watch this spectacle of a floating city taking its leave, because there was suddenly a crowd of people stopped at the railing of the Canada Walk, watching.  Before we left, I was sitting on our little verandah and saw a man gesture to his wife, pointing his finger and moving it across the air from left to right – the front of the ship to the back.


From our stateroom verandah, I also watched waves of people coming up the gangway at 3 pm, all the way to past 4 pm!  A few were admitted even after the required safety drill had begun.  Those people would barely have time to get their bearings before having to head to their emergency stations.

I’m still amazed by the massiveness of these cruise ships.  And this one is only medium sized – the stats say its capacity is about 2,000 passengers.  (The Cruise Log we received at the end of the cruise states that there were 2,015 passengers on board.)

The front half of the Noordam
The back half of the Noordam
KODAK Digital Still Camera
Leaving Vancouver harbor


Monday, August 22, 2016                 at sea

Exciting day at sea today!  There were several activities we wanted to do plus we were invited to a fancy brunch at 11 am in the dining room, as members of the “Mariner Society” – meaning anyone who has been on a Holland America cruise before.

The brunch was elegantly set up with white tablecloths, napkins folded to look like sails, and glasses of both water and champagne already waiting for us. While we ate our 3-course meal,  the ship’s Location Coordinator, Jude, got up to give a pep talk and mentioned that the captain would be coming to see us.  We had a couple of choices for appetizer and main course, and dessert was a raspberry cobbler – delicious! But I was worried about gaining weight again!

A little while later, Jude told us the captain would not be able to come because he was needed for some sort of emergency.  What kind of emergency, I wondered. I hope we are not going to have to implement the procedures we practiced in the safety drill!

Soon afterward, the captain gave an announcement that there was a medical emergency on board and we would have to turn around and go back to somewhere near Vancouver Island, where they could send out a rescue helicopter to pick up the patient.

By the time we saw the spotter plane, Dale and I had gone to Deck 9, “Lido” poolside with our books to read.  The plane was yellow, the color of the Canadian Coast Guard. It began circling overhead, and many of the people at the poolside began to watch the proceedings. After a delay in which the plane continued circling overhead, it dropped smoke bombs because, we were told, that would indicate the wind direction to the helicopter pilot.

The Canadian Coast Guard helicopter arrived to pick up the patient for transport to a hospital.

When the yellow helicopter came into view, I snapped several pictures as it approached. Soon it was right overhead.  It hovered to let medical personnel out.  They would stabilize the patient and prep him for transport.

The captain had called emergency personnel on the ship to be at the ready, and also called for evacuation of staterooms on Deck 10, as well as those in the most forward section of Decks 4-8.  He asked us to please cooperate if an employee told us not to go to a certain area.

It took a long time – half an hour or so – to stabilize the patient.  When they were finally ready to airlift him, we found out later, his wife and their luggage were also loaded into the helicopter! Thinking about this, it did make sense. When else was the patient’s wife going to be able to disembark to be with her husband? And there was no sense in leaving any of their luggage on board either. The cruise was over for them just as it had begun!


We saw a pilot boat approaching, also of the Canadian Coast Guard, which was rumored to have come to pick up the medical personnel still on the ship. I mused that with the patient, his wife, their luggage, and probably at least one medically trained person on the helicopter, there was no room for anyone else.  As we thought, the boat pulled up alongside the ship, where the paramedics got on.  We couldn’t actually see this, of course, because when the pilot boat was alongside the ship, it was out of our line of sight.  However, soon we saw it speed away.  Then the airplane stopped circling and left and the Noordam was now at liberty to resume its journey.

The captain told us that because of this delay, we would have to make up time by taking a more direct route, instead of the southern part of the Inside Passage, and we would travel at a faster speed than expected.  I couldn’t tell when the ship was turned around, but we headed north again at a good clip and we could feel the ship rocking as it plowed through the rough sea.


2 thoughts on “Alaska 2016 Part 2: The Cruise – What Happens When Someone Has a Heart Attack on a Cruise Ship

  1. We’ve been through this several times in far away seas. Once on a transatlantic where they helicoptered the person off the ship as soon as the ship was close enough to a continent to fly there and back. Quite dramatic as they couldn’t airlift him off the ship for four tries, and could only try it one more time, or they would run out of fuel.

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