MIAMI, Fla. – The phone rings in Christine Beehler’s cabin.
“Yes ... right now ... OK.”
It was the news Beehler, 72, had been waiting for — she would be among 134 Coral Princess cruise passengers on a charter flight home Monday afternoon.
“I’m ready to go,” she said.
Hundreds of passengers from the Coral Princess are already back home in the United Kingdom as other passengers wait for when they will be allowed to get off the ship that docked at PortMiami on Saturday. Princess Cruise Line confirmed two people on board died while the ship was at sea and there were 12 cases of the new coronavirus. A third passenger, Wilson Maa of California, died at a Hialeah hospital Saturday night after waiting for hours to be taken off the ship.
The cruise line says 545 guests disembarked Coral Princess on Sunday and another 139 left Monday, leaving 274 on board. Additional domestic charter flights are being coordinated and are scheduled to depart Wednesday.
Monday’s flight that Beehler is on will make three stops: Columbus, Ohio, Newark, N.J., and Toronto.
Things got complicated Sunday when the ship’s captain told passengers that the CDC was no longer letting them on commercial flights. Beehler has a private ride set up to New Hampshire once she gets off in Newark.
“We pushed Carnival to make this happen as quickly as possible,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez said. "My port director says it’s happening for the foreigners. The Americans is taking a little longer because they’re probably going to have to line up more charters because of the requirements of the CDC.”
One couple still aboard the ship held up a sign aimed at the governor, saying Florida residents need help.
Another sign read “test me.”
Some passengers told Local 10 News via text message that they’re unsure when they’ll get to go home.
Originally, passengers who were fit to travel were supposed to be driven straight to the airfield, but instead, they were dropped off at one of the terminals.
“The information is very sketchy for us right now,” Coral Princess passenger David Fowler said. “I don’t want to stay in Florida. I want to go home to Atlanta, and that shouldn’t be that difficult to do.”
On Sunday, firefighters helped triage another eight passengers in need of medical attention. All of them went to the hospital. Another two people were taken to the hospital on Monday.
According to Gimenez’s office, the county, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, the CDC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, gave clearance for the Princess Cruise Line ship to dock at PortMiami on Saturday.
“Consistent with the operating plan developed by the Unified Command, two critical patients were transported to Larkin Hospital and three others were transported to a Tampa area hospital,” a news release from the mayor’s office stated. “A sixth person was transported late Saturday by private ambulance after a medical assessment by the cruise line. Regretfully, the person later died at a local hospital in Hialeah.”
After her father’s death, Wilson Maa’s daughter Julie was urging local authorities to take her ailing mother Toyling Maa off the ship. She wrote on her Twitter account that it was an hour before an ambulance showed up.
@PrincessCruises @WPLGLocal10 @MiamiHerald Dad passed away last night. Thanks for all your support. Now my mom Toyling Maa is waiting for her ambulance. Been waiting over an hour. Please, I can't go through this again. #CoralPrincess— Julie Maa (@julieformusic) April 5, 2020
“I can’t go through this again,” she wrote on social media.
Toyling Maa was taken to a hospital with symptoms of the virus, but relatives said she had not yet been tested.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Florida, is calling for an investigation by local authorities.
“Families and individuals should not be abandoned during medical emergencies or left pleading for help,” she said. “I truly do believe it needs to be investigated.”
Gimenez said the initial investigation indicates that the cruise ship did not follow protocol and call 911.
“They were waiting for a hospital bed to open up, and that’s not with our guidelines,” he said.