A teenager whose appendix ruptured at sea, hundreds of miles from help, got safely to shore Tuesday after an unusual rescue in which the Navy airlifted her from a cruise ship for emergency surgery.
Laura Montero, 14, fell ill aboard the Dawn Princess cruise ship off the coast of Baja California. The Bahamian-registered ship sent out a distress call Friday that was answered by the USS Ronald Reagan, which was on training maneuvers about 500 miles away.
The nuclear carrier was the closest ship with a hospital facility, according to a news release from the Navy. It steamed overnight toward the cruise ship, which was about 250 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas when the call went out.
A helicopter took off from the Reagan around 5 a.m. Saturday to close the final 175-mile gap between the ships. The crew arrived after a 45-minute flight and lowered a medic onto the cruise ship deck in a basket because there wasn’t space to land, said Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Leland, the pilot.
Montero, who was on an antibiotic drip, was loaded into a litter basket, lifted into the helicopter and flown back to the Reagan for an appendectomy. Her mother stayed aboard the cruise ship.
“We practice this all the time, but this is the first time I’ve pulled a civilian off a cruise ship,” Leland said.
A spokeswoman for Princess Cruises, which operates the Dawn Princess, said the ship’s captain called the Coast Guard for help because he felt that would be faster than diverting to the nearest Mexican port.
“Where the ship was, where the land was and the fact that the Ronald Reagan had (a surgical facility) on board were all factors that came into play,” said Julie Benson. “The option is to go to the nearest medical facility that can treat the patient.”
The Dawn Princess returned to its home port of San Diego over the weekend from its regular weeklong run along the Baja California coast to the resorts of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
The Reagan, which carries as many as 6,000 crew members and costs about $2.5 million a day to operate while under way, returned Tuesday morning, its scheduled return from the training tour.