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News > Fairchild member returns from stranded cruise ship
Fairchild member returns from stranded cruise ship

Posted 11/18/2010   Updated 11/18/2010 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Natasha E. Stannard
92nd Air Refueling Wing

11/18/2010 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- When Bo Smith-Tallan put in her leave to go on a cruise two weeks ago, she and her husband expected a week of sunshine and relaxation.

After all, they were on a boat -- her husband had his swim trunks; she had her 'flippy-floppies.'

Little did they know they'd soon find themselves stuck, their ship dead in the water. No hot food. No running water. No bathrooms. No power. No way out.

From the beginning of the trip, Mrs. Smith-Tallan, 92nd Air Refueling Wing protocol chief, saw foretelling signs that this voyage would be unlike any other.

It all began once they arrived in Long Beach, Calif. First their transportation to the cruise ship went to the wrong airport to pick them up.

Once they got to the ship and stepped in the two-hour line with more than 3,000 other passengers to board, they noticed luggage spilling off carts. After they finally boarded the
ship, she saw a tug boat prodding at something in the water. It was luggage; about 25 bags of luggage, she said.

That Sunday evening the ship left port. Things started to look up, but only for that evening

"We had a very nice hot meal of chicken, steak, potatoes and shrimp cocktail Sunday night -- It was our only hot meal," she said.

On Monday, the engine room caught fire and the ship's power cut off. Hot meals were no longer an option.

"Monday morning, we heard a boom," she explained. "The boat started shaking like a trampoline and then came an awful smell from all the smoke."

From that moment on, the vacation ceased. Tuesday, the loud speaker announced the cruise was terminated. Everyone was still on the boat. The boat which no longer featured five-star dining, a working fitness center, air conditioning and most importantly running water.

Instead of cracking open crab legs and dining on filet mignon, passengers cracked open cans of Spam and tore open shiny cellophane wrapping to unveil their strawberry Pop-Tarts.

The biggest problem however, were the toilets. Not only did they not work, but they leaked from the deck above to the lower levels of the ship, she said.

Walking through the deck corridors was almost unbearable as it was ridden with the stench of smoke, rotting food and sewage.

"It's a smell I would very much like to forget," she said. "It was thick and reeked of melted plastic, rotting food and sewage all mixed together. When I went to bed I had to cover my head to block the stink."

While these weren't the expected amenities, the passengers were all very thankful when the USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76, Navy aircraft carrier, diverted from maneuvers Tuesday to aid the passengers with help from the Coastguard and Mexican Navy.

Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan delivered packages of their own food to passengers.

With all this, Mrs. Smith-Tallan, a retired security forces Airman, managed to make the most of the ordeal and credits her time in the Air Force as her source of mental preparation.

"In the military, we train for situations like this," she said. "You're out there in the middle of nowhere: what are you going to do? Cry and scream, or make the best of the situation in order to help those around you?"

Mrs. Smith-Tallan chose to help. She assisted people with physical limitations get food when it was delivered.

"Everyone became one team and helped each other," she added.

All in all, the experience gave her an unforgettable outlook and life experience.

"Because there was no TV or radio, I learned how to survive without the creature comforts of life - you don't need all that to survive," she explained. "I also learned how to communicate better with my husband and learned of the amazing abilities of the Coast Guard and Sailors."

By Thursday, six Coast Guard tug boats pushed the 952-foot, 113,000-ton cruise ship back to the docks.

"It's good to be back on solid ground," she said with a smile. "I'll never forget this. It's something you can't forget."

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