An elderly man allegedly said growing old was “sh*t” before throwing himself off a cruise ship in the middle of the Tasman Sea while his wife had a shower metres away.
The death of the Sydney man is not the first time people’s lives have ended after leaping from cruise ships. But the reasons behind some are easier to explain than others.
At a coronial inquest held last week, NSW state coroner Michael Barnes ruled the man, who has not been named and is known simply as Mr KH, committed suicide on November 24, 2014. His body has never been found.
Twelve days previously, the man, 84, boarded Princess Cruises’ cruise ship Sun Princess with his wife and two friends for a two week jaunt. By all accounts he was in good spirits drinking and dining with his companions, said Mr Barnes.
Born in Germany in 1930, he emigrated to Australia in 1954, working as a self-employed car mechanic. He moved to Sydney in the early 2000s due to ill health.
Fears about his health had plagued his later years, his family told the inquest.
His daughter described her father as a “hedonist” and that he enjoyed travelling, restaurants and meeting people. But he hated being sick and had said that “getting old is sh*t” and would not accept he was ageing. He had remarked he was going to more funerals than social functions and had openly remarked, on various occasions, about how he might take his own life.
UNLIKELY TO SURVIVE THE FALL
In 2000 he had told his son that he was surprised he had even reached his eighth decade.
In the months prior to his death, Mr KH’s wife said she recalled him saying, “Don’t worry; you won’t have to put up with me for much longer”.
The week before he vanished the man visited his previous wife. “That was unusual. They had little contact in recent years. She said he apologised for things that had occurred in the past and hoped that they would stay friends,” said the coroner.
Just before 8pm on his final evening, Mr KH and his wife bid their travelling companions goodnight. While some alcohol had been consumed with dinner, no one was drunk, remarked the report.
At around 8.40pm, the man’s wife went to have a shower. By the time she had finished, her husband had vanished.
His wife thought he may have gone to see their companions or for another drink but she couldn’t find him anywhere. She alerted the ship’s staff just before 1am and following a search of the ship, the crew interrogated the vessel’s CCTV footage.
“A recording was seen of a person climbing over the balcony of the first cabin on deck 12 forward, and falling into the sea at 20:40:07 local time,” the report states. Although it wasn’t clear who the person who jumped, all indications are it was Mr KH.
Survival expert Paul Luckin said it would have been highly unlikely that Mr KH would have survived the fall given his age, the weather conditions, the height from which he fell and the speed the vessel was travelling at the time.
After he disappeared, the man’s daughter found a note in her study addressed to her from her father which, to her mind, settled the issue. In the note, her father said, “I talked to a good friend about (ending my life) and he had the right idea. In style, big ship. No pain …”
While cruise ships are meant to be places full of life, it’s not the first time people have died by falling over the side. But while suicide is frequently raised as the likely cause, the lack of any witnesses and rarity in finding a body mean questions often remain.
One of the most mysterious deaths on board a cruise liner is that of Paul Rossington and Kristen Schroder. The couple, from NSW, died after falling overboard, one after the other, from the Carnival Spirit in May 8, 2013.
In family snaps they were smiling but Mr Rossington’s and Ms Schroder’s relationship was volatile. The 10-day cruise was apparently an attempt to mend their splintering relationship.
On the final night of the cruise, as the ship powered across the Tasman, the pair failed to show up for a comedy show booked for their group. CCTV shows them instead in the ship’s casino, playing the pokies and having “a terse conversation”, reported the coroner.
At 6.52pm, the couple kiss and Ms Schroder walks out. Where she went next is a mystery. But records show Mr Rossington was first to arrive back at their cabin at 8.19pm followed shortly afterwards by Ms Schroder.
Twenty three minutes after stepping inside the room, infra-red cameras captured Ms Schroder climbing over the railing of the cabin, losing her footing and plunging 18 metres into the sea below. She hit the side of the ship on the way down and would doubtless have been badly hurt. Seconds later, the same cameras would pick up a heat signal consistent with a naked Mr Rossington jumping after her.
Although Ms Schroder had spoken of suicide all the indications are the events of that night were a terrible accident. Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon instead concluded that, in a likely, “dramatic gesture to alarm and test Paul”, she stepped over the couple’s cabin balcony railing and slipped.
“Whether they resurfaced is impossible to know,” he said. Mr Rossington, a paramedic, was later recommended for a posthumous bravery award.