A seriously ill 73-year-old British woman was accidentally dropped into the bitterly cold Norwegian Sea as rescue workers took her off a cruise ship, police said Thursday. The ordeal has left her hospitalized for more than three weeks.
Janet Richardson spent four minutes treading water March 29 after Norwegian coast guard officers let her stretcher slip into the sea as they were evacuating her from a Scandinavian cruise ship, rescue officials and her husband George told The Associated Press.
The sea was just a few degrees above freezing at the time.
Richardson spent a week in intensive care and remains hospitalized in England, her husband said.
"The stretcher went into the water and she fell into the water too as she was not strapped in," he said. "She had a life jacket on and I could see her swimming, treading water and trying to stay afloat."
Norwegian police said they have launched an investigation into the accident and Norwegian Sea Rescue spokesman Ernst Larsen said the coast guard was also conducting a probe.
The botched rescue came on the eighth day of the cruise from Hull on the east coast of England. According to organizer Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Janet Richardson began suffering from internal bleeding during the homeward leg of a two-week cruise on the Ocean Countess ship.
Richardson said his wife was suffering from dizziness and low blood pressure when the captain decided to transfer her to shore.
"Janet had always wanted to go on a cruise to the fjords and to see the northern lights," said her husband, a 78-year-old retired farmer.
The great-grandmother was lowered about 25 feet (7.6 meters) to the rescue ship when the vessels suddenly parted and she fell into the water, he said.
She had to stay in the water while rescue workers steered the coast guard boat away to avoid crushing her between the ships, Larsen said.
Temperatures in the Norwegian Sea are usually between 32 and 39 degrees F (0 to 4 Celsius) in late March, Larsen said. People lose consciousness after about 15-to-30 minutes in such temperatures and survive a maximum of 90 minutes, according to seafaring chart.
"The boats were not tied together. They were just side-by-side on the water when the stern of the rescue boat moved away. I don't know why this is the case," George Richardson said.
Janet Richardson was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the rescue boat and spent a week in intensive care in Norway before being transferred to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, England, where she is still being treated.
Larsen said it wasn't unusual for ships to be used in rescue operations instead of helicopters and said people are safely transferred between ships in Norway every day.
"This was a sad but unusual event," Larsen said.
Rising reported from Stockholm, Sweden.