A Utah woman was among the 154 passengers and crew of a Canadian cruise ship that struck submerged ice off Antarctica and began sinking Friday morning.
All passengers and crew took to lifeboats and were carried to safety by a passing cruise ship. The entire vessel finally slipped beneath the waves Friday evening, about 20 hours after the predawn accident near Antarctica's South Shetland Islands, the Chilean navy said.
No injuries were reported, although passengers reportedly endured subfreezing temperatures for several hours as they waited in bobbing lifeboats for a Norwegian liner that took them to a Chilean military base in the region.
"The ship ran into some ice. It was submerged ice, and the result was a hole about the size of a fist in the side of the hull so it began taking on water ... but quite slowly," said Susan Hayes of G.A.P. Adventures of Toronto, which owns the stricken MS Explorer. "The passengers are absolutely fine. They're all accounted for, no injuries whatsoever."
Lisa Paisola, a Davis County resident, was reportedly among the rescued passengers, said her brothers Robert and Jason Paisola, both Utah natives.
"Her whole goal was to visit all the continents in the world — and we all had reservations about her going there," Jason Paisola said. "We received a voice-mail (from Lisa) saying goodbye — and you could tell she was panicked and shocked and didn't know if she was going to live or die."
Antarctica was the last continent Lisa needed to visit in order to accomplish her goal. Her aunt, Kay Vanhorne of Denver, accompanied her on the trip.
"We as a family are so, so happy that she is OK and that our aunt is OK," Robert Paisola said. "It is very scary to know that someone you love is in that situation."
Hayes said 91 passengers had been aboard, including at least 23 Britons, 17 Dutch, 13 Americans and 10 Canadians. The ship also carried nine expedition staff members and a crew of 54.
The group calmly abandoned ship when the captain's order came, and pumps helped keep the ship stable for an orderly evacuation, Hayes said.
Paisola was sleeping when the evacuation notice was received. She and other passengers fled to waiting lifeboats, which offered little protection against the subfreezing temperatures. Help didn't arrive for 5 1/2 hours, Jason Paisola said.
Arnvid Hansen, captain of the Norwegian liner Nordnorge, said his ship ferried the passengers and crew to a Chilean air force base on King George Island in Antarctic waters near southernmost South America.
"The rescue operation ran very smoothly," the 54-year-old captain told The Associated Press by shipboard telephone from the Nordnorge.
G.A.P. Adventures is a tour company that provides excursions with an environmental focus. The Explorer was on a 19-day circuit of Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, letting passengers observe penguins, whales and other wildlife while getting briefings from experts on the region.
Traveling to Antarctica is always risky, Hayes said.
"There is ice in the area. Obviously it's a hazard of the area. But it's highly unusual (that the ship would hit the ice). This has never happened to us," she said.
An Argentine rescue and command center received the first distress call at 12:30 a.m. EST Friday from the Explorer amid reports it was taking on water despite efforts to use onboard pumps, said Capt. Juan Pablo Panichini, an Argentine navy spokesman.
A navy statement said that the captain ordered passengers to abandon ship about 90 minutes after the first call and that passengers and crew boarded eight semi-rigid lifeboats and four life rafts, with the captain leaving the ship later.
Early that morning, Jason's father suspected Lisa might be aboard the sinking vessel.
"At 6 a.m. he was banging on the door, telling us what's going on — he was listening to CNN and they mentioned a ship in Antarctica that was sinking," Jason Paisola said.
"We weren't certain if it was her ship and looked online. I just couldn't believe it was the same ship she was on. ... For about three hours, we had no idea what was going on."
It wasn't until mid-afternoon that the family heard from Lisa — a short two-minute conversation — just to let them know she was OK.
"We are relieved — it has been a really long day," Jason Paisola said.
A Chilean ornithologist identified as Paola Palavecino was quoted in an Argentine media report as saying she and others aboard went into the lifeboats before dawn and endured subfreezing temperatures for a few hours until they were picked up about 6 a.m. EST.
"The ship took on water quickly," she was quoted by the Argentine news agency Diarios y Noticias as telling a local radio station in a call from the Nordnorge.
A commander at Chile's air base on King George Island confirmed late Friday that the Nordnorge had arrived in a bay near the base but said waves and strong winds had prevented the passengers from immediately disembarking.
He said Chilean air force planes, weather permitting, would fly the survivors today to Punta Arenas at the southernmost tip of Chile.
An Argentine navy statement said the Explorer was about 475 nautical miles southeast of Ushuaia, the southernmost Argentine city and a jumping-off point for cruise ships and supply vessels for Antarctica. Seas were calm and winds light at the time of the accident, officials said.
Last Feb. 1, the Nordnorge evacuated 294 passengers, including 119 Americans, from a sister Norwegian cruise ship, the MS Nordkapp, which ran aground off a remote Antarctic island. The Nordkapp later pulled off the rocks under its own power, and authorities said those passengers were never in danger.