On March 23, 2006, at approximately 3AM, my husband, Richard, and I awoke to the short, faint sound of an alarm, followed by static on the ship’s intercom. Upon opening our cabin door, I observed a crewmember, knocking on the door across the hall from our room. He turned, looked at me, but said nothing.
I looked into the hallway, but I did not see any other passengers or crewmembers. While still in bed, Richard looked at me, in question. I just shrugged my shoulders, because I had no clue as to what was happening. When I looked back into the hallway, the crewmember had left.
As I began to close the door to our cabin, I heard my best friend, Mary McLain, yelling, “The ship is on fire…The ship is on fire! Everyone get out!” Mary was standing outside of her room. Immediately, I turned to Richard and repeated Mary’s words. For a few seconds, he sat there in shock. I called to him to get up and get dressed! Within seconds, the phone rang. It was Ray and Dolores Waters, another couple with whom we had been traveling, calling to alert us of the same situation. Immediately, I grabbed my robe and sandals, before we entered the hallway.
Our friends, Mary and Ken McLain, and Dolores and Ray Waters, both had outer cabins with decks. We occupied an inside cabin within close proximity. The breaking sound of glass and loud noises awoke them. Their decks were engulfed with flames. They also saw a crewmember with a fire hose outside their deck, spraying water on the lower decks. He was forced to climb to the next deck to avoid being burnt. (Mary informed me of this, once we returned home.)
As we began to exit our cabin and enter the hallway, the only light shining was from our room. The smoke was so thick and black that Richard instructed me to wet some towels. By this time, black smoke was rolling from under the emergency exit, directly next to our room.
Richard told me to get down on my hands and knees, as we needed to crawl to the next closest exit; therefore, we left our cabin door open, hoping that the light from our room would assist us, but the smoke was too thick. We couldn’t even see our hands in front of our faces. The only light that occasionally assisted us was from the flames that were shooting overhead.
Richard was crawling at a fast pace, while I held on to his shirt-tail with my right hand. As we crawled along the right wall of the hallway, the ship suddenly shifted, tossing me to the opposite wall and causing me to lose my grip on Richard’s shirt.
I was unable to speak or call out to Richard, because the smoke had gotten into my lungs. As I moved to the right side of the hallway, the ship shifted again, ramming my right shoulder into the corner of the wall. As a result, I was no longer able to extend my arm out in reach of Richard. My shoulder felt as though someone had stabbed me, but when I was finally able to extend it, I heard Richard say, “Vicky, don’t let me die!” I kept trying to find him in the darkness. The sprinklers never came on, and there were no lights or fire extinguishers or smoke detectors in the hallway. Moments later, I heard a door close and I assumed Richard had made it to the emergency exit.
I started crawling as fast as I could, but just before reaching the emergency door, I heard a woman call out, “Someone help me, please. I don’t know which way to go.” I felt her in front of me. As hard as I could, I tugged on her clothing, pulling her in my direction.
I felt myself getting weak, as though I was going to pass out, but I finally reached the emergency door and pushed it open.
As I started to pass out, I heard someone say, “No, no, keep your eyes open, and stay with us.” I was so weak that I could not walk, nor did I see Richard anywhere. Being unable to speak, I kept pointing back to the hallway, but I was losing consciousness.
I was transported from Level 10 to Level 6, the auditorium that was being used as a muster station (Muster Station A).
I was too weak to focus on anything, other than my husband and our friends. I was able to speak a few words and asked about my husband, giving them his name, our cabin number, and also the cabin numbers of our friends, Mary, Ken, Dolores and Ray. A female crewmember stated that she would make every effort to find them and get back to me as soon as possible. Approximately 45 minutes later, she returned to inform me that everyone had been located and they were safe in Muster Station B. I replied, “Thank God” and thanked her for keeping me abreast of their safety. As time continued, I was having trouble breathing, and could hardly hold my head up. Finally, a medical person transported me, via a wheelchair, to the medical facility on another deck. Again, I asked about my husband and our friends. This time, they questioned me about our cabin number, the names of our friends, and Richard’s clothing.
Suddenly, a medical staff member approached me, dropped his head, and began to close the door. I looked him and said, “No, no! Don’t close the door! I don’t want to hear it.” Apparently, they had tried to resuscitate Richard, but it was too late. “No, that’s not true! I was told earlier that everyone was fine, including my husband.”
I was asked to identify Richard. In the wheelchair, they brought me down the hall. My friend, Mary, was at my side, holding my hand. Covered in soot, Richard was lying on a gurney. I stood up, looked into his partially opened eyes, and told him that I was sorry… I had tried to find him.
I placed several devastating calls to Richard’s children… his oldest daughter, Michele, and his son, Phillip. I asked Philip to call his other two sisters. I was then transported to the hospital by ambulance.
Although I expect to physically recover from my injuries, the emotional trauma of this tragedy will never heal… I lost my husband, my best friend!