Woman's body recovered on west side of Douglas Island

Authorities await positive ID with missing cruise ship passenger

Posted: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A 45-year-old passenger on Holland America's Zaandam went missing Monday morning, and authorities think they located her body on the shore of the west side of Douglas Island that afternoon.

"I feel very confident it's who we're looking for, but we're looking for some final tidbits," said Sgt. Matthew Dobson of the Alaska State Troopers.

While the Troopers await a positive identification, the air and sea search for the missing Washington woman believed to have fallen overboard sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. will continue, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. The Zaandam was traveling from Douglas Island and Glacier Bay National Park at the time. The water temperature was estimated to be 57 degrees.

Authorities and the cruise line have declined to identify the woman further, pending the body's verification and final notification to her family, though the family had been notified that the woman was reported missing, Dobson said Monday evening.

Dobson said state Troopers will board the Zaandam today while it's in port in Sitka as a routine follow up. Troopers will be conducting interviews and trying to confirm information collected secondhand on Monday.

"We're assuming it's accidental, but you never know," Dobson said.

Coast Guard aircraft and cutters began searching Stephens Passage, Lynn Canal and Icy Strait for the woman shortly after she was reported missing Monday morning. TEMSCO Helicopters, whom Holland America had hired to assist in the search, ultimately found the body at about 4:30 p.m. and a Coast Guard helicopter recovered the body.

The woman's last contact with the ship's crew was at 12:30 a.m. Monday - she had ordered room service, the Coast Guard reported - and her cabinmate reported her missing at 9 a.m., according to a Holland America press release.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr said the search area covered an 80- to 100-mile-long stretch of zigzagging waterways.

The Zaandam is a 780-foot cruise ship with a combined passenger and crew capacity of 2,039 people. It was last in port in Juneau on Sunday and was bound in Sitka after a visit to Glacier Bay.

Potential investigations of safety conditions or of foul play aboard a cruise ship may fall to the Coast Guard or the FBI, Warr said, though he said it was premature to discuss those possibilities.

"We're not to that stage yet. We're concentrating on our search efforts," he said Monday afternoon before the body was found.

The Coast Guard's search vessels include a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Sitka, the patrol boats Long Island and Liberty, and two rescue boats from Station Juneau. Two aircraft with the Civil Air Patrol are assisting, and Glacier Bay National Park Service conduced a shoreline search with multiple vessels.

• Contact Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.

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