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Sinking cruise ship survivor taped entire ordeal

An American on board the MS Enterprise when it hit an iceberg off Antarctica last week tells TODAY she thought was going to die, and wanted a record of her last hours to leave for her loved ones.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

With her cruise ship listing heavily to port in the ice-choked waters off Antarctica, terrifying visions of the Titanic filled Lisa Paisola’s mind.

Still, she kept her video camera running to memorialize the event — not for herself, but rather loved ones Paisola thought she might be leaving behind.

“When you’re in that situation, you don’t think about the home you live in, you don’t think about the cars you drive, you don’t think about anything but your family,” Paisola told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Wednesday, just five days after being rescued from the lethal waters along with 153 other passengers and crew of the MS Explorer.

“I couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to see them one more day, to be able to give them one big hug,” she said.

At such times, the 38-year-old woman said from her home in Salt Lake City, things suddenly become crystal-clear.

“Your priorities really adjust,” she said. “Your life comes into focus.”

So she kept her camera running. “I was shooting that videotape because I really, truly felt I was going to die,” she said. “And I knew I had a waterproof camera that had a lifejacket on it, and if the ship went down, this would be a way for my family to know everything that happened … I wanted to have a moment with my family to connect with them.”

Paisola hates the cold, but after visiting the world’s six other continents, she decided she had to add the seventh and most forbidding — Antarctica.

So, about three weeks ago, she and her 63-year-old aunt, Kay Van Horne of Denver, set off in the Canadian cruise ship to visit the bottom of the world.

Two weeks later, the Explorer, built to withstand the ice, hit an iceberg and began taking on water through a fist-size hole in its hull. A day or two earlier Paisola’s camera had captured a striking panorama of sea and ice as she provided the narration: “What a wonderful day! It just keeps getting better and better.”

Now, as the ship’s emergency alarms sounded, she turned the camera to scenes of a hurried exit through the passageways and up on deck, the video narrated by her frightened cries of “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!”

Amid concern, a bit of levityOn the deck, the ship’s captain tried to calm his passengers by telling a joke.

“Which one of you left your toilet flushing?” he asked brightly. “I think this is the problem.”

The passengers can be heard chuckling at the joke before the scene shifted to one of controlled chaos as people clambered into lifeboats, hanging on to anything they could on the tilted deck to keep from falling.

They got into the lifeboats and pushed away from the stricken ship with no idea of when or if they would be rescued. They were fortunate to be in seas that were relatively calm, because the greatest danger was getting wet in the cutting cold.

While she was packing for the trip, she had watched the TODAY show with great interest as Ann Curry reported from Antarctica during the show’s “Ends of the Earth” series. Inspired by Curry, who also dislikes cold weather, she consulted with a local expert on the outdoors on how to stay warm in the cold climate.

Among the items she took with her was a large poncho her sister, Becky Storrs, gave her. Now, on the lifeboat, she was able to use it to shelter about eight others of the 30 or so people in the boat.

They bobbed among the icebergs for some four hours, but to Paisola, it could have been days.

“It seemed like forever,” she told Curry. “There’s absolutely nothing forgiving about the Antarctic. It’s very cold. The water is just ice. You knew if a whale came by and capsized the lifeboat or water came in, there was no chance at that point.”

‘Move your fingers. Move your toes’
The passengers tried to keep each others’ spirits up in the lifeboat.

“It was terribly cold,” she said. “We told ourselves, ‘Move your fingers. Move your toes.’ For lack of a better analogy, we were all in this boat together.”

But Paisola admitted she didn’t think she’d ever see her family again until first rescue helicopters arrived overhead, followed by the arrival of a Norwegian cruise ship, which picked up everyone safely.

The transfer was also fraught with danger, she told her hometown newspaper earlier this week. They had to get out of the lifeboat and into a rubber raft, then climb a ladder onto the rescue ship.

When Paisola’s turn came, she couldn’t feel her feet because of the cold and her boots fell off and into the water. Crewmen had to grab her arms and haul her aboard.

“Not until I actually was on the rescue boat did I really realize we were going to make it,” she told Curry.

She was dressed warmly as she spoke to Curry, a fire burning in the fireplace behind her.

“I am so happy to be home,” she said. “I never thought I’d have this opportunity to be in my home ever again.”