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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 November 2007, 16:31 GMT
Evacuee describes Antarctic rescue
Passengers on lifeboats
One couple got engaged while in the lifeboats

A British woman who was among 154 people rescued from a sinking cruise ship in the Antarctic has described her experience.

The M/S Explorer started to sink after an object struck its hold while passing through ice off Antarctica.

Gillian Plant, 40, from Manchester, told the BBC news website the passengers were enjoying "the best experience of our lives".

Speaking from King George Island in Antarctica, where the passengers were taken after being rescued, she said it had been about midnight when the crew discovered the ship had started taking on water.

"We were cruising, everybody was in high spirits, everything on the ship had been fantastic, but then unfortunately the captain alerted us that they were aware there was a problem.

"We all got on warm clothing and co-ordinated in the area. We were then given a roll call to ensure that all staff were onboard and all passengers were present and we just waited while the engineers tried to sort the problem out.

"They couldn't sort the problem out and the captain said it was abandon ship."

'No panic'

Ms Plant said the passengers had been "nervous" but that none gave any sign of fear.

"There was no panic at all."

She described how they had got into the lifeboats before being lowered into the sea.

"It was cold when we were sprayed with water but the weather was very good, so it could have been a lot worse. The weather was on our side. If we'd had bad weather it would have possibly been a different story."

The wildlife and the whole trip has been the best experience of everybody's life
Gillian Plant

The evacuated passengers were given protective suits and orange jackets to keep them warm while they waited for help to arrive.

Ms Plant said: "We were in the lifeboat about four-and-a-half hours. What was reassuring was when we saw the helicopter fly around, twice."

To keep their spirits up, they passed the time watching for whales and penguins.

And there was some unexpected good news as a Danish couple got engaged while in the lifeboat.

Ms Plant said: "He had planned to propose to his girlfriend that evening but he actually took the ring with him and proposed to her in the lifeboat. She accepted and they're going somewhere hot and sunny for their honeymoon."

After several hours bobbing on the sea amid floating sheets of ice, the passengers were plucked to safety by Norwegian cruise ship, the Nordnorge.

Coastguards said although the weather conditions were good for this time of year, the average temperature was still -5C.

Praise for captain

Ms Plant said passengers had been kept fully informed about what was going on throughout the ordeal.

She said: "At all times during the night, the captain kept us informed. Even when we were on the lifeboat we could hear the captain radioing round, telling the passengers how far the rescue ship was away and how long it would be.

"And he was checking each of the Zodiacs and lifeboats, checking that everybody was OK."

She praised the captain for putting passengers' safety first, saying the rescue went so smoothly only because of his early decision to evacuate.

She said the passengers had suffered no ill effects from their ordeal and were being treated well by staff at Chilean and Uruguayan military bases on King George Island in Antarctica.

I have actually booked for the same boat to go to the Arctic next year
Gillian Plant

She said: "We're all sitting around drinking cups of tea.

"We understand two planes are on their way to collect us. We'll be taken to somewhere where the Gap travel organisation will meet us."

The abrupt end to what was supposed to have been a 19-day cruise through the Drake Passage has not put Ms Plant off polar adventure.

She said: "The wildlife and the whole trip has been the best experience of everybody's life here.

"I have actually booked for the same boat to go to the Arctic next year but I'll have to reassess my travel plans now - I'll have to go on a different ship. But I would come to Antarctica again."

Bad weather delays tourist return
24 Nov 07 |  Americas
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