USA Today, WMAZ-TV
The presumed death of a Warner Robins man who fell from a cruise ship last week highlights a little-mentioned phenomenon: A handful of similar deaths occur each year.
Coast Guard officials say four to five people die each year on the Florida coast from going overboard from cruise ships, according to a USA Today report in March 2016. Some jump deliberately, to die by suicide. Others get drunk and fall off accidentally while horsing around.
"Most of the cases happen at night, and often there is alcohol involved," said Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Doss in the USA Today report. Doss is a petty officer based in Miami.
The Coast Guard says cruise ship surveillance video shows Kevin Wellons, 24, falling overboard from the ship's 11th deck Feb. 13 at about 2:45 a.m. near Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas.
His wife reported him missing when the ship arrived at its first stop in Nassau, according to the Coast Guard. It's not known what Wellons was doing before the fall, but the Coast Guard says it's not suspecting foul play.
He and his wife left for the trip on the Carnival Elation cruise ship out of Jacksonville, Fla. The ship returned at about 5 a.m. Thursday without Wellons.
Open-air decks and cabin balconies on modern cruise vessels are lined with railings as high or higher than those found at hotels on land, with the typical ship balcony railing today measuring 45 inches high, according to the USA Today report. On a five-foot, six-inch person, that places the top of the rail at roughly mid-torso – four to six inches above the navel.
"It's next to impossible to fall off a ship without climbing over a railing," notes Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruiseweek, a weekly publication that follows the industry. "Most over-boards to date have been suicides."
The Coast Guard halted its search for Wellons last Tuesday after a day of searching.
USA Today did its report following the death of David Mossman, 46. He died March 7, 2016 after falling 100 feet into the sea while aboard Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas.
Witnesses told investigators they saw Mossman jump, although security-camera video only showed his fall.
Many media organizations are reluctant to report on suicide deaths over fears the coverage might spur copycat behavior. The circumstances of Mossman's presumed death were initially reported as potentially an accident, which generated significant media interest. Such accidents are rare because cruise ships are required by law to have railings and guardrails of a certain height to prevent accidental falls.