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Overboard cruise passenger spent hours in the Gulf of Mexico before being rescued

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A man who went overboard during a vacation cruise in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued after several hours in the water off New Orleans, authorities said Friday.

The 28-year-old, who was not publicly identified, may have been in the water for at least six hours when he was pulled from the sea on Thursday. He was rescued about 20 miles south of Louisiana’s Southwest Pass, where the Mississippi River meets the coast, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

The man’s survival has been hailed as unlikely and possibly miraculous given the length of time he has been in the water. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ryan Graves said the man had no flotation device and survival at sea without one is unlikely.

“It makes it even more amazing that we were able to find him conscious and treading water,” Graves said.

The cruise ship passenger was last seen boarding the Carnival Valor bound for Mexico around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Graves said.

Coast Guard rescue crews pulled the man to safety six hours after receiving a report of a passenger thrown overboard at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Graves said.

It is not clear how or when the man went overboard. Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement that an accidental fall into the water would be rare and physically challenging.

“Cruise ships have safety barriers in all public areas regulated by U.S. Coast Guard standards that prevent a guest from falling off,” it said Friday. “Guests are never allowed to climb onto the rails. The only way to go overboard is to deliberately climb over the guard rails.”

Nighttime video from Coast Guard planes appears to show the man struggling in relatively calm but active seas, where his head dipped below the surface with every wave. The agency said in a statement that the passenger “reacted” when the crew aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter reached him.

Surface temperatures in the gulf are about 70 degrees, Gross said. Data from coastal monitors, buoys and oil rigs collected by federal forecasters and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on Friday measured water temperatures from 63 degrees near shore at Southwest Pass to 70 and above at sea.

Graves noted that in early October, even some of the warmest seasonal waters challenged three men who spent 28 hours at sea 25 miles off the coast of Louisiana after the boat they were using capsized in rough seas.

The water was warm, he said, but the trio was beset by it signs of hypothermia when they were rescued by Coast Guard crews on October 9.

The average sea temperature in October near the coast at Mobile State Docks, Alabama is almost 77; it was slightly above 62 there on Friday, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Experts have suggested that surviving in water 60 degrees or cooler after six hours is unlikely, but warmer water may increase the chance of making it. Cold shock, swimming failure and hypothermia can open the way to death, including drowning and cardiac arrest.

T. J. Swigart contributed.


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