ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
Maybe you've seen the images today - they are stunning - of a bright, red cruise ships lying on its side in a field of floating ice. The Explorer was designed nearly 40 years ago, specifically to move through ice. It was the first ship to take regular folks - non-scientists - through the Northwest Passage and to explore the marvels of Antarctica.
It was there in the cold, cold waters of Antarctica that the Explorer met its end on Friday. Ice smashed a hole in its hull, sending all 154 passengers and crew members to their lifeboats. They bobbed there in the cold water for a couple of hours until rescuers arrived.
One of the rescuers was a National Geographic research cruise ship called the Endeavor. Jon Bowermaster was on the National Geographic ship - still is in fact - and we have him on the line from his sat phone for a firsthand account. How are you, sir?
Mr. JON BOWERMASTER (Passenger, Endeavor): I'm a little colder than you are, but otherwise, all is good.
SEABROOK: Where are you right now?
Mr. BOWERMASTER: Well, we're just nearing 66 degrees south latitude, so we're near the Antarctic circle and we're probably a couple of hundred miles south of where we came upon the Explorer yesterday morning.
SEABROOK: Now, the Endeavor, your ship, was first on the scene. What did you see?
Mr. BOWERMASTER: Well, the first thing we saw - the captain of the Endeavor, Oliver Kreuss, spotted the sinking ship from about 15 miles out. And what we saw when we arrived was a string of lifeboats strung out over about a quarter a mile. It was very surreal because it was actually quite a beautiful morning - pretty calm for Antarctica. And it was cold, probably 30 degrees, not much wind, and beautiful sunlight on the sea. So there - but there glistening was this kind of almost horrific sight of these cast-aside lifeboats.
Just as we arrived, another big cruise boat, the Nordnorge, with 700-passenger capability arrived. And it had been agreed upon as we were both steaming towards the accident that Nordnorge would take all the people because they had room. We didn't really have rooms aboard the Endeavor.
SEABROOK: Did you - were the people panicking? I mean, they must have been freezing on those life rafts.
Mr. BOWERMASTER: Well, I'm sure they were very cold. I mean, they didn't see for about four hours and they started in the dark. I guess the only good thing for them is that they were able to communicate with the captain who stayed on the Explorer for quite awhile who had been communicating with our captain, so they knew we were coming. But still, I'm sure when they saw our two ships - the Nordnorge and the Endeavor - coming over the horizon, they must have been very happy.
The thing that was very fortunate for them was that about six hours after they were rescued, a very nasty but very typical Antarctic storm arrived. And if they've been lost in those conditions - foggy, very cold, very windy - the turnout might have been quite different.
SEABROOK: How did your crew help in the rescue?
Mr. BOWERMASTER: Well, we sent out - the Nordnorge carried all the passengers on, we sent out Zodiacs from our ships to try and transfer people from boat to boat and also to roundup all the lifeboats because what was happening as the people left the lifeboats, they were just leaving them abandoned in the seas.
And as we were leaving, after all the passengers were safely on the Nordnorge, we made a circle of the sinking ship. At that point, it was about 30, 35, 40 degrees listening to the starboard about to go over on its side. And we made a beautiful kind of sad cruise around it because many of the people on the Endeavor had worked on the Explorer over the course of the last four decades.
SEABROOK: What happened to the Explorer now? Did it sink after that?
Mr. BOWERMASTER: Yeah. The Explorer has sunk. You know, I'm sure you saw those very kind of eloquent pictures of it laying on its side in the ice. But it's so heavy that I'm sure it's broke apart and sunk sometime, I believe, early this morning, so about 24 hours after it apparently hit some ice.
SEABROOK: Jon Bowermaster is an explorer and writer aboard the National Geographic ship, the Endeavor. Thank you so much.
Mr. BOWERMASTER: You're welcome, Andrea.
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