Honeymooner George Smith disappeared from a cruise ship sailing between Greece and Turkey six months ago today. His family is convinced he was murdered. They‘re suing Royal Caribbean for wrongful death. They have blasted the cruise line and the captain for how they handled the investigation.
Now for the first time in an ABRAMS REPORT exclusive, the Captain Lachtaridis spoke out and he has a very different take about what happened on that ship.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
MICHAEL LACHTARIDIS, FORMER ROYAL CARIBBEAN CAPTAIN: He wanted to get some fresh air from the balcony. He was sitting on the railing and he lost his balance.
DAN ABRAMS, HOST 'ABRAMS REPORT': Captain Michael Lachtaridis thinks it was just an accident that honeymooner George Smith likely returned from a late night out, hurt himself in his room and eventually fell overboard. In fact, he says he initially feared it was Smith‘s new wife, Jennifer Hagel Smith, who had the accident based on where his crew found her at 4:30 that morning.
LACHTARIDIS: They found her asleep in the corridor.
ABRAMS: Not near her room?
LACHTARIDIS: No, no, away from the room.
ABRAMS: Sleeping meaning she was drunk?
LACHTARIDIS: I don‘t know. She was sleeping. They found her asleep so—and then the reports say that they took a wheelchair to bring her to the cabin.
ABRAMS: Jennifer didn‘t learn her husband was missing until the morning when blood was discovered on an awning underneath their cabin. She was paged and found at the ship‘s spa.
LACHTARIDIS: She said that they were partying and that maybe her husband is in another room.
ABRAMS: Smith‘s family believes the captain is part of the problem. That from the get-go he and his crew never took the possibility of foul play seriously. That they tried to cover up the incident and effectively abandoned Jennifer in a foreign land.
LACHTARIDIS: That is not true. We did everything that was possible to be done and to help her. Really I felt sorry for her because you come for your honeymoon and then your husband is gone.
ABRAMS: The captain says he followed protocol. Contacted local police and they insisted Jennifer leave the ship to be questioned.
She‘s furious. She feels like Royal Caribbean left her in the middle of a country that she knew nothing about, with no money, no clothes and no help.
LACHTARIDIS: Why she‘s lying, I don‘t know.
ABRAMS: She says that she‘s taken to a Turkish police station basically alone.
LACHTARIDIS: No, this is lie. This is lie...
ABRAMS: Captain Lachtaridis [you say] she was accompanied by a guest services manager. According to Jennifer, the captain promised two Royal Caribbean security officers would stay with her at all times. Do you think that you could have done anything more to encourage the Turkish authorities to question her on the ship?
LACHTARIDIS: I think I told you that we asked the authorities to come aboard and they refused. They said no.
ABRAMS:The Smiths believe the captain and Royal Caribbean wanted to just put this behind them as quickly as possible including washing the blood off the canopy later that day.
LACHTARIDIS: When they complete the investigation, I asked the police before they leave the ship, can we secure now the cabin, can we clean the blood? They said, oh, yes. It‘s clear now.
ABRAMS: Apart from the technical aspect of the authorities saying we have completed our investigation, doesn‘t Royal Caribbean also have an obligation to say you know what, one of our passengers is missing and as a result it‘s probably better for us not to just continue with the cruise?
LACHTARIDIS: To do what in Turkey? To wait there? For what?
ABRAMS: Any news.
LACHTARIDIS: No news. They complete the investigation. They didn‘t say anything. I mean I cannot see a reason to stay still there.
ABRAMS: While Jennifer chose not to return to the ship, three young men seen leaving Smith‘s cabin the night he went missing did. The man staying next door said he heard a commotion in the room around 4:00 a.m.
LACHTARIDIS: He heard a very loud noise like boom, a very loud noise and after, quiet and after, nothing.
ABRAMS: Captain Lachtaridis [you] say those same men had been disrupted and warned days earlier. A few days after George Smith went missing, those same young men were accused of raping a woman on the boat.
LACHTARIDIS: Yes, they were kicked off the boat.
ABRAMS: We should say the Italian authorities investigated that and decided there was not enough evidence to charge anyone with rape. And we‘ve reached out to the attorney for two of those men. He had no statement.
LACHTARIDIS: I saw that it was one chair of the balcony chairs by the railing. It‘s a glass railing and the handrail on top wooden. And I saw this chair touching the railing. And I saw that someone step on the chair, was sitting on the railing and so easy to fall over. It was very easy. So that was my thought.
ABRAMS: You see this pool of blood...
ABRAMS: You find a wife who doesn‘t know where her husband is and you‘re getting suspicious, you say?
LACHTARIDIS: Right. Right.
ABRAMS: You close off the room...
ABRAMS: No one else can come in.
ABRAMS: Sounds like what you‘re saying is that you were thinking there might be a crime.
LACHTARIDIS: An accident or a crime, I didn‘t have much evidence.
ABRAMS: His family is convinced he was murdered.
ABRAMS: You don‘t buy it?
LACHTARIDIS: I don‘t think so. I don‘t think so.
ABRAMS: And why would there be blood in the room?
LACHTARIDIS: That‘s the only question. Now if George—let‘s say he fell and then if you fell, you break your nose and start bleeding and then you take a towel and then you wipe it there and then you go outside to get some fresh air. And then you are sitting on the railing and you fell over, so, that‘s the whole thing. I mean blood on the towel or wherever you pass by to go outside to the balcony to get some fresh air and you fall over.
ABRAMS: Did you feel sympathetic towards Jennifer?
LACHTARIDIS: Oh, yes...
ABRAMS: When we talk now it sounds like you really—you don‘t have a lot of sympathy...
LACHTARIDIS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This is not true. Because when the police, the Turkey police on the end they asked me, what you think about the wife? I said the poor thing. The poor thing, look at her, she‘s crying all the time. I think—she want to find out what‘s happened to her husband.
ABRAMS: The critical time period starts at about 4:00 in the morning on July 5. This is likely around the time that George Smith went overboard and is also around the time when a passenger in an adjoining cabin called the desk to report loud noises coming from the Smith‘s cabin.
LACHTARIDIS: He heard in the cabin next-door lots of noise, loud, people like drinking. And he knocked the wall, the bulkhead. Then they became quiet and then after they start again I guess drinking or partying or whatever. And then he called the reception, the front desk. Then he said that he heard something like people leaving from the cabin.
And he opened a little bit the door and he see that three guys, they were leaving the cabin. Then he heard the balcony door open, towards the balcony, and moving furniture. And then he heard a very loud noise, like boom, very loud and after, quiet and after, nothing. This was between 4:00 to 4:30. Four-thirty they found this lady, Jennifer, and they brought her back to the cabin. Of course nobody was in the cabin.
ABRAMS: Did they see the balcony door open?
LACHTARIDIS: The balcony door was closed they said. We talked to their parents and we talked to the young kids, so—to behave, not to drink, not to be noisy and not to use foul language.
ABRAMS: And a few days after George Smith went missing, those same young men were accused of raping a woman on the boat.
LACHTARIDIS: This is under investigation. I cannot say more about this.
ABRAMS: They were kicked off the boat, weren‘t they?
LACHTARIDIS: Yes, they were kicked off the boat.
ABRAMS: Why did you decide to kick them off the boat?
LACHTARIDIS: Because this was—this accusation was too much now. I mean you have like a pre-warning. You have a warning and then you cannot hold them anymore. That‘s it. Even the Italian police, they say that for them was not a case.
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