Woman Falls Overboard On Cruise Ship, Treads Water Until Rescue

It was a dream cruise to celebrate a big birthday but it ended in a nightmare when a young woman fell overboard. She was in the dark water, all alone, waiting for help. She says it took the cruise ship too long to turn around to rescue her. The cruise

Few people ever fall off a cruise ship and live to tell the tale. Sarah Kirby is one of them.   “I shouldn't have survived,” she says.

Last October Kirby embarked on a dream vacation - a Caribbean cruise to celebrate her 30th birthday aboard the Destiny, one of Carnival's luxury cruise ships.  “We were celebrating, it was a great adventure,” she told INSIDE EDITION’s Megan Alexander.

She says she went out to the stateroom’s balcony after celebrating with her friends on the first night of her voyage.  

“I remember leaning back to look out at the ship and then falling,” she said.

She dropped two stories before careening off a lifeboat and then falling another 5 stories into the midnight sea below.  She says she  screamed and tried to swim after the ship but it soon disappeared into the blackness.    

“What was it like seeing the cruise ship sail off into the distance?” asked Alexander.

“Pure terror. I remember thinking I have to try to swim to the ship as fast as I can.”

Watch the entire video segment here.

To get an idea of just how frightening it must have been, Megan Alexander  went into the waters at night.

Alexander said, “I have a little bit of light coming from our camera, but Sarah had nothing.”   When the light was turned off, it was pitch black.  “I don’t know how she survived,”  said Alexander.

Sarah said, “I felt hopeless. Helpless and hopeless. It’s pitch black out there. There's no land. No lights.”  

Sarah was also badly injured, bleeding into shark-infested waters. She said “I kept praying, please don't let me die, please don't let something eat me like a shark.”

Back aboard the ship, her traveling companion Rebecca was hysterical, trying to get the captain to turn around.   “I begged them, begged them, multiple times.”

Rebecca, who was in the cabin's bathroom and didn’t see Sarah fall, says the captain was reluctant to veer off course and wanted to search the ship first because most missing people are found onboard.

Some cruise ships are equipped with infrared, night-vision cameras. Sarah says if carnival had an infrared camera onboard they could have instantly spotted her even at night.  

Sarah says after 90 minutes, the ship turned around.  Her prayers were finally answered. Her remarkable rescue was captured on cell phone video by several passengers as a lifeboat was lowered to pluck her from the ocean.

Then came this announcement from the cruise director, “Folks I have some very good news. We have found the guest. We have pulled her from the water and we are now bringing her back aboard the vessel.”

Sarah said, “I was crying and sobbing and said thank you for not leaving me.”

Alexander asked, “When you first see Sarah what was her condition?”

Rebecca replied, “I cried, she didn’t look the same. Her face was five times the normal size.”

Sarah admits being drunk from a night of celebrating when she went overboard.

She says she slipped and fell after knocking back several potent cocktails called Long Island Ice Tea's and claims the bartenders encouraged her to buy more drinks by offering her these coupons to the ship's casino.

Sarah and her Miami attorney Michael Winkleman are now suing the cruise line, alleging that Carnival "abandoned [her] in the middle of the ocean for an unreasonable amount of time."

“That's what this story is about,” said Winkleman.  “It’s not about Sarah making a bad decision, its about Carnival making numerous bad decisions and putting her in that position.”

In a statement, Carnival wouldn't comment about the pending lawsuit but in a statement said they, "...conducted a successful search and rescue of Ms. Kirby and saved her life.”

 “Carnival’s probably going to say you drank too much that night and this is your fault, not theirs. How do you respond?” asked Alexander.

 “I came on a Carnival cruise to have fun and I thought I was going to be safe. I shouldn't have survived,” Replied Sarah.

Sarah also claims Carnival refused to airlift her to a hospital and as a result 16 hours went by before she got proper medical care.  In court papers, Carnival denies all of Sarah's allegations, saying they acted properly at all times.