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Locals recall experience on sinking cruise ship

The Sea Diamond lists in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece April 5.  - Courtesy photo
The Sea Diamond lists in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece April 5.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Kelly Underwood feared for her life as water rushed under a cabin door aboard the Sea Diamond.

For many, it was their first time on a cruise ship. But 11 Kitsap County students and adults got more than they bargained for.

A group from Klahowya Secondary School, Bremerton High School and a student from King’s West School were aboard Sea Diamond, the cruise ship that sank off the coast of Greece April 5. The ship hit a well-marked and charted reef in the Aegean Sea.

Underwood, a Klahowya junior, Chase Estes, a King’s West student and several Bremerton High School students were in their cabin on the bottom deck when the 1,500-passenger ship hit the reef.

“Everybody felt the crash, but we were on the bottom and felt it more,” Underwood said.

Robin Kiess, Estes’s mother and Klahowya science teacher, was on the top deck when the ship crashed into the reef. She thought the ship had dropped anchor.

“It didn’t even dawn on me that there was a hole in the boat,” Kiess said.

Estes peaked out the cabin door and saw water rushing down the hallway. The students left the cabin and headed to the top deck.

A mob of people stormed the stairways and elevators. Underwood feared for her safety because of the rushing water and crazed mob.

“It was getting kind of violent,” Underwood explained.

On their first day aboard the cruise ship, passengers and crew members completed a practice drill in the event of a crash. When the real thing actually happened, the drill proved useless.

“The ship was listing so badly that it didn’t work during the actual event,” Kiess said.

The cruise director made several announcements throughout the week-long cruise. After the ship hit the reef, she made yet another announcement: “Please stay calm, we have everything under control.”

“Her voice was fairly calming,” Kiess said. “Everyone knew her.”

Passengers were not told the ship was sinking, but when it began to list, panic ensued.

“That’s when people realized the boat was sinking,” Estes said.

Ship passengers stormed the top deck, some without shoes, some wearing only bath towels. Crew members donned lifejackets, but passengers were not provided lifejackets until later.

Kiess took the students down to a lower deck because the top deck was filled with terrified passengers.

“I tried to keep them away from the mob of people,” Kiess said.

The Kitsap County group was among the first passengers put on lifeboats. They were taken to shore where they waited for another cruise ship to take them to the airport in Athens, Greece.

“It was just like ‘Titanic,’ women and children first on the lifeboats,” Kiess said.

Underwood’s mother, Ann Marie Underwood, was informed April 5 that the cruise ship encountered a problem.

“I got a phone call Thursday (April 5),” Ann Marie said. “She said ‘the cruise ship had a little problem, but the kids are fine.’”

The cruise line gave each passenger 200 euros ($125) cash after the accident.

“They could have done nothing,” Kiess said. “I thought it was nice.”

The tour group the students and adults were traveling with provided hotel and food accommodations while they waited for a return flight to the United States.

“We got a lot of free meals those few days,” Underwood chuckled.

Aside from the clothes on their backs, ship passengers lost all of their possessions onboard including clothes, shoes, iPODs, digital cameras and souvenirs.

Underwood had traveler’s insurance and may receivie up to $2,000 to replace her belongings. She is uncertain when and if she will get the money.

The group arrived in Portland, Ore. Saturday, April 7. Friends and family members drove from Kitsap County to Portland to see their loved ones.

“The severity of it didn’t really hit me at the time,” Ann Marie said. “When I saw her (Underwood) I couldn’t let her go. I could have lost her.”

Kiess, Estes and Underwood hope to go on more cruises in the future.

“Just maybe not anytime soon,” Underwood said.

Kiess may make special arrangements and check the captain’s record before boarding another cruise ship.

“We’ll just make sure we have rooms on a higher deck,” Kiess chuckled.

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