JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Carnival Cruise ship Elation returned Thursday morning to port in Jacksonville, but without 24-year-old Kevin Wellons, the man who went overboard during the cruise.
At the time he was reported missing, the ship was approximately 14 nautical miles northeast of Great Harbor Cay in the Bahamas. A Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was deployed to Great Inagua and HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crews from Air Station Miami covered more than 1,381 square miles over nine hours searching for Wellons.
Families of the cruise passengers said they were concerned about their family members after hearing the news of Wellons disappearance.
"I had not heard from my son, so, of course, I was concerned," said Teresa Pratt, mother of a passenger aboard the Elation. "They finally got in touch with me and said that everything was OK.”
Wellons was last seen by his wife around 2:30 a.m. Monday. She didn’t report him missing until six hours later. The Coast Guard said the crew saw video that confirmed that he went overboard from the 11th-floor deck, around 2:45 a.m. Monday, about 15 miles southwest of Abaco, Bahamas, two days into the five-day cruise.
Chris Tylutki, who was aboard, said the mood didn’t change because no one really knew what has happening.
“It’s not news you want to hear but it didn’t ruin the trip," said Tylutki. "They really kept it pretty hush. I think the majority of the passengers weren’t even aware that it happened.”
Although Carnival is working with the family, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Carnival Elation left Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon and docked in Nassau, Bahamas, Tuesday morning.
A Jacksonville-based travel expert said such situations are not common because barriers are in place to prevent them.
"These are very isolated incidents, mostly due to alcohol consumption, or if someone has a mental issue, they may jump overboard, but again, these are very rare and isolated incidents," said Scott Lara of Air Sea Travel.
Lara said that despite their rarity, cruise lines are prepared to handle such situations properly.
“Any time there’s an incident like this on a cruise ship, federal and state authorities will be on board to investigate it, to get a resolution to what happened for the family members and to make sure that these things don’t happen again -- safety procedures and so forth,” Lara said. “But if someone is going on a cruise, today or tomorrow, is it safe? Absolutely.”
Carnival Elation is based year-round in Jacksonville and departed late Saturday afternoon on a five-day Bahamas cruise.