Cruise line calls missing passenger death a suicide

Posted: Wednesday, August 05, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Alaska authorities conducted interviews and reviewed security camera footage Tuesday aboard a cruise ship after the body of a passenger turned up in the icy waters off an island near the capital.

Grant Turner / Sitka Sentinel
Grant Turner / Sitka Sentinel

The passenger aboard the Zaandam, Amber Malkuch, 45, appeared to have committed suicide, a cruise ship spokeswoman said. Her body was found Monday just off Douglas Island. The Arlington, Wash., resident had been reported missing earlier in the day.

"Based on evidence and information to date, it does not appear to be foul play," Holland America spokeswoman Sally Andrews said from Seattle. "From what we have seen to date, it appears to be a suicide."

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said Troopers were not yet willing to conclusively point to a cause of death. An autopsy will be conducted in Anchorage, authorities said.

"We still have to do our investigation, and we're not going to make any guesses at this time," Peters said.

Officers interviewed passengers and reviewed footage from the Zaandam's security cameras after the ship docked in Sitka, Peters said.

The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed the identity with an ID found on the body, Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said.

Malkuch was reported missing by a traveling companion Monday morning when the Zaandam was in Glacier Bay National Park, about 75 miles northwest of Juneau.

She was last seen about 12:30 a.m. after she ordered room service, when the vessel was near Douglas Island. Malkuch's body was found after a search stretching over 80 miles.

The crew of a commercial helicopter operated by Ketchikan-based TEMSCO Helicopters that was helping in the search found the body about 12 miles northwest of where the passenger was last seen, Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr said.

Warr said there was no immediate sign that any of the Zaandam's survival gear was missing.

The 780-foot-long Zaandam can carry about 1,430 passengers and 600 crew members.

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