As shaken Pacific Dawn passengers emerged from the cruise ship terminal at Brisbane on Sunday, police revealed the “tragic circumstances” that led to the death of an Australian mother who went overboard days before.
P&O staff and police have reviewed the CCTV aboard the ship, which they say showed Brisbane woman Natasha Schofield, 47, talking to her husband on the top deck on Thursday afternoon before she took two steps back and deliberately propelled herself from the left side of the vessel into the water.
The liner was at sea about 300 kilometres off New Caledonia at the time.
Brisbane region duty officer Inspector Rob Graham said the woman’s husband tried to grab her by the legs as she went over the railing, but it was too late.
“The missing person did not accidentally fall … [and] did not fall as a result of a freak wave,” he said.
“I can say that the missing person did make intentional actions to propel herself overboard. I can say that a male person, her husband, was standing right next to her when she went over.
“I can also say that her husband tried in vain to grab her as she went over, by grabbing onto her legs, but she was too far gone. These are a tragic set of circumstances on what should have been a week-long holiday of a lifetime.”
Inspector Graham said there were no indications that alcohol or seasickness were factors in the woman’s fall.
The Australian couple were travelling with their three children, aged between 12 and 16 years. It was understood the children did not witness their mother’s fall.
Jessie Ashe, 20, was a passenger aboard the liner, on her first cruise experience.
“The whole atmosphere really changed on the boat [after the incident],” she said. “It was the night of the Gatsby party and there was like no one there.
“Your whole body just kind of went numb [when we heard the alarm]. We went up on board, there was everyone looking and we just saw life rings but no one in them.
“After 40 minutes I think the realisation kind of hit.”
Ashe said rumours spread like wildfire throughout the ship regarding who had fallen and how it had happened.
“Within the first half-an-hour we heard it was a male, female or little girl – there was just so many rumours you didn’t know what to believe.”
Ashe said staff on board had been “really sincere” in the days after the death and offered all passengers counselling on the vessel.
Inspector Graham said P&O had been “exemplary” in co-operating with police. Staff on board secured the victim’s room immediately and controlled who entered and what was removed.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority co-ordinated a search for the woman, which included the cruise ship turning around immediately after the alarm was raised and retracing its path in the hope of finding the passenger.
However, the search was called off on Friday morning, based on medical advice that it was unlikely the woman would be found alive.
Detectives, scene-of-crime officers and plain-duty police boarded the cruise ship on Sunday morning to investigate further. An AMSA safety officer was also expected to inspect the vessel.
The ship had departed Brisbane on Saturday, April 7, and sailed to Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
Passengers had earlier told News Corp the woman had gone outside to vomit and was thrown overboard when a wave hit the ship, but P&O said there was nothing to support that version of events.
Police said late on Friday that there were no suspicious circumstances.