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Rockville man survives jump off cruise ship

Scott Durbin was fortunate. The water was warm, the seas calm and the Coast Guard just nine miles away when he decided to dive off the side of a cruise ship near the Bahamas late Sunday night.

The 28-year-old Rockville man survived the 36-foot plunge, and the Coast Guard plucked him from the ocean 50 miles east of Boca Raton, Fla., an hour later.

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Durbin and three friends apparently boarded the Carnival Liberty in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 11 a.m. Sunday, and he began drinking before its 5 p.m. departure for Freeport in the Bahamas, according to Judy Orihuela, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Miami office.

After they had been at sea about six hours, Durbin climbed into a lifeboat and took an axe to the cables that connected the boat to the ship, Orihuela said. A Carnival employee saw him and notified the ship's security, which dispatched an officer who tried unsuccessfully to stop the man. Durbin then jumped into the water.

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There was no indication that Durbin was attempting suicide, Orihuela said, and even if he had been able to cut the cables, the lifeboat would not have dropped into the ocean.

The ship's crew immediately threw life rings and jackets over the side of the ship, which helped mark the location, then notified the Coast Guard. Those were the keys to the speedy rescue, according to Petty Officer Dana Warr.

Warr said the Coast Guard knew the exact location of the ship when Durbin fell overboard, and the cutter Bluefin happened to be only eight or nine miles away. Although the Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and a second cutter, the Bluefin took only half an hour to get to the location and only six minutes to locate Durbin.

Durbin did not suffer life-threatening injuries. "He was pretty good for falling almost 40 feet," Warr said, noting that the water temperature was about 80 degrees and the seas between 2 and 3 feet.

Durbin was taken to shore and transferred briefly to the Broward County Sheriff's Department, because the Coast Guard didn't know whether Durbin had tried to commit suicide.

He was then taken by ambulance to Broward General Medical Center, where he was in the emergency room yesterday. The FBI's Orihuela said he was fine and was expected to be released from the hospital last night.

Durbin is the fourth person to fall or jump off a cruise ship in that area over the past nine months, according to the Coast Guard. Two were rescued, one drowned and a fourth is missing.

In the most recent incident, also on Sunday, a teenager died when he apparently jumped off the Carnival Ecstasy after its departure from Galveston, Texas. His body was recovered by the ship's crew.

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David Ritcheson, an 18-year- old Mexican-American, had survived a brutal beating by white supremacists last year and testified before Congress several months ago about hate crimes, according to the Associated Press.

In April, a man who fell 60 feet from a cruise ship floated for nearly eight hours before the Coast Guard picked him up. He survived.

Another victim of a fall was not as lucky, Warr said, because the Coast Guard wasn't notified until eight hours after he went overboard. Rescuers searched an 18-square-mile area for two days, Warr said, and but never found the man.

Carnival Cruise Lines declined to comment on Sunday's incidents and referred calls to an industry group, the Cruise Lines International Association.

The FBI investigated Sunday's incident because it has jurisdiction in high-seas cases. Orihuela said no charges will be filed and Durbin will not have to pay for his rescue.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com



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