Ian Michael Scott-Ellis, 49, from Mount Holly, North Carolina was a cruise ship passenger aboard Carnival Cruise Line Carnival Fantasy in Grand Turk on November 4, 2015. While Ian was snorkeling, he suddenly died.
His fiance Aleta tells Cruise Bruise Investigates what really happened that awful day in November, when her world dramatically changed with the loss of the man she loves.
Ian Michael Scott-Ellis was a HVAC Tech (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Technician) originally from Camillus, New York. He was engaged to fiance Aleta Easterling who was also on the cruise, as were 'step-daughters' Courtney Easterling and Becca Easterling and Courtney's fiance, Chris Hall.
Aleta tells Cruise Bruise Investigates, "Ian and I were engaged. We have been living together as a couple for almost 6 years, sharing everything, building and planning a future together. So many people make the mistake of not making a will. This is a mistake that has upset my world, on top of losing my fiance and best friend. Since we were not legally married, I have no legal rights to anything."
Aleta was not a legal co-owner of the home, so any insurance policy contract on the home will not be paid to her, it will be paid to Ian's estate. The couple also had not added travel insurance to the booked cruise.
Aleta and Ian lived in North Carolina and the state doesn't recognize common law marriages. If the couple had signed power of attorney papers while in the relationship, or had a will, she may have had some protections as his domestic partner. They hadn't. But, the couple had a moral and ethical obligation to each other through their bond of love.
Ian and Aleta booked this snorkeling excursion through Carnival Cruise Lines. The cruise ship stopped at at Half Moon Cay on Tuesday, November 3 then Grand Turk on Wednesday November 4. Aleta tells us, "Carnival promotes these excursion companies and say that they are "Licensed and Reputable Companies". Maybe so, but are they "Trained and Knowledged" in their fields", she wonders.
Aleta tells how the story unfolded from the cruise ship snorkeling excursion, as follows. The tour company, Chukka Caribbean Adventures, is who we were with. “We went out with about 25 people to snorkel and swim with sting rays. There was a 3 man crew. They instructed us on gear and safety and how they were the professionals so we should listen to them, for our safety. We snorkeled and were getting back on the boat to go to another location to swim with sting rays, when something happened to Ian.
He was floating/waiting in the water beside the boat, waiting his turn to climb the latter, and something happened. A whistle was blown and crew jumped in to assist him. He was assisted up the ladder, his lips were beginning to turn bluish in color, I spoke to him and asked if he was ok, and he replied "not really" to me.
As soon as he was on the boat, he passed out. A crew member, Romeo, took over and started wrapping Ian up with towels. He covered his head and just kept yelling, "He's in shock, we must get him warm".
Nobody ever checked for a pulse, checked for breathing, or even looked at his face. They did not assess him in any way. There was a nurse and volunteer firefighter on board and they were yelling to "Check for a pulse" and "Check to see if he is breathing". But, the crew member just kept his head covered up with a towel and repeatedly said, "We need to warm him up". I was yelling at him, telling him that Ian was not breathing. I myself checked for a pulse and there was not one. I could not feel him breathing either. Multiple people were telling the crew to do CPR.
I finally got the crew member to remove the towel from Ian's face, and foam and fluid was running from his nose. His face was blue! Another crew member finally came over and started to do compressions, on his Shoulder, while Romeo fumbled around with an oxygen mask and tank that was not working.
I had to show the crew member doing compressions where he was supposed to be doing them. Multiple people were telling them that Ian needed rescue breaths as well, but Romeo would not do them nor would he move to let anyone else do them. So, incorrect CPR, no rescue breaths or breathing for the victim, attempts at putting an oxygen mask on a person that was not even breathing, and they would not let anyone else assist.
Yet, they were the professionals that had claimed just an hour prior, that they were trained and knew what they were doing. They had even shown us the first aid box with the oxygen tank, etc. It was all wrong, along with the empty oxygen tank and tangled tubing. Was this due to the fact that the equipment was just used the day before, on another victim, Scarlett LaVite, 51, from Florida. LaVite was on the exact boat and with the same crew, just the day before. This may explain why Romeo was so freaked out.
When the incident happened, all the people from our boat did not board. After they got Ian on the boat, they raised the ladder. The remaining 12 or more people in the water were moved over to another boat that was out there with us. Our boat headed back to shore, you would think that the other boat would follow, as they had family members from our boat with them. No. That other boat went on to finish the excursion, swimming with stingrays. That's completely understandable, they have a lot of other people, But, they had my daughter on that boat. They would not bring her to shore until after swimming with stingrays. We were separated and she had no idea what was going on."
When the couple arrived to the shore, there was no ambulance. The snorkeling company crew had not called for an ambulance to meet them at shore. They had to wait for it to arrive and valuable time was lost without medical care. Aleta rode in the ambulance that day, with one paramedic. Holding Ian’s head and wiping fluid from his face as it poured from his nose. Aleta says, "Ian's head was completely blue, finger nail beds were blue and she knew he was gone before he ever got to the hospital.
The two doctors that came in the room that day at the hospital to tell me that Ian had passed, told us that Ian had fluid in his lungs.
Aleta explains more about the hospital part of the incident. “The police officer that greeted me on the boat and took a short statement from me told me that my children would be brought to the hospital immediately, as they were not allowed to ride in the ambulance. I arrived at the hospital and was directed to the waiting area. I was questioned by three different police officers. They were all asking me the same questions about what had happened. The third officer did not get much from me, as I asked if she could please get the answers from the other two officers that were sitting in the area with me.
They brought me water. Sat in the area with me, chatting and talking among themselves. I watched personnel and doctors walk in and out of the room they had taken Ian in. There was a police officer stationed at the door. The police officer that had originally greeted me on the dock was in the area with me. I asked her about my family. Where were they? I thought they were coming right behind us?? It seemed like forever! She called someone on the phone and did a lot of fussing and saying "What?", "Why?", "Are you serious?", "You are kidding me!", "They are supposed to be here!", "Get them here!"
When she ended her phone call, she told me that they would be on their way.
It again, was forever before they arrived. When they finally got there it wasn't long before someone came and got us to take us to a private room. It was then that two doctors came in and told us that Ian had not survived. They said that he had aspirated and had fluid and substance (probably breakfast food) in his lungs.
A few minutes later, a lady came to the door to talk to us about payment. My daughter Courtney quickly took her out of the room. Someone then came in with a business card to Corey's Funeral Chapel and explained how things would play out. That Ian's body would have to remain there for autopsy and toxicology to be done. They said that we could stay or go. Well, we didn't have passports so there was really no choice but to go.
An officer escorted me and my daughter Courtney into the room where Ian was, to say goodbye and see him one last time. There were a line of people standing in the room, watching me. The officer would not leave my side. We were then all taken back to the room to await a ride back to the ship. As we were leaving the hospital, the manager of the Chukka excursion company met us before we walked out and told me how sorry he was for our loss, and for me not to worry about the bill at the hospital, that he would be taking care of it.”
When Aleta left the hospital, she went back to Carnival Fantasy. Ian was dead, 1,126 miles from home, in a foreign country. While she needed to grieve, she had to figure out how to get Ian back home and put him to rest. Aleta explains, “Someone came and drove us to some building in town, I think the police station, and then we got on a golf cart and they took us to the boarding ramp of the ship.We went straight to an office where a Carnival Cruise Care Team person was there to talk with us. Two police officers accompanied us back on the ship. One came in the office where I was and had to take a full statement. I had to give every detail of the events that had happened, it was several hand written pages.
The other passengers that were on the excursion with us and had witnessed the entire event, were waiting on us and or, they had given my children their contact numbers and cabin numbers, so that we could get in contact with them for statements or and further help we may need to do something about what had happened.
There were two other couples who insisted on giving their statements to the police, as well as my own report. What we all feel happened, Ian must have taken in some water, and was choking/coughing, and ultimately drown.
One lady that had witnessed the whole thing came in to console me and pray for me and then she gave her statement to the other police officer. The cruise ship was scheduled to leave at a certain time and time was running short. They literally rushed the police officers off the ship.
The care team person then met with me and my children to offer condolences. She offered to give us unlimited calling from our two state rooms so that we could call home. She also gave me an internet package, at no charge. She said that we would have the option of flying home from our next port of call, which was Nassau, but again, we did not have passports.I told her that I could NOT afford 4 plane tickets AND 4 emergency passports. I just didn't have that kind of money. She understood. She offered to make our stay as comfortable as possible. I was able to order my evening dinning meals and have them delivered to the room, free calling and free internet. She did call my oldest Courtney, to check on me each day.
Friday, we arrived in Nassau. At some point that morning, the care team person called Courtney to tell her that Carnival would pay for our flights home if we wanted to go. We would still need to apply for and pay for 4 emergency passports though. Maybe she didn't understand me when I explained to her, we are not wealthy people. We save up for our vacations. We don't have credit cards. We don't have hidden money. I could not afford emergency passports, nor could I come up with that money from a cruise ship.
Later that day, the care team person called Courtney and told her that Carnival would go ahead and pay for the passports as well as the flights. But, there was literally no way, at this point in the day, that we would be able to pack our stuff, get to town and apply for passports and fly home. With no guarantee that we would be approved passports, we would have been stupid to get off that ship and risk being stuck in Nassau. We remained on the ship until arriving in Charleston on Sunday.
I have to say though, the staff on board were FANTASTIC!!! I went to the dining room the last two nights. We had made friends with the family at our table and they had asked the kids about me. The wait staff were all wonderful! I spent the last two evenings on the ship walking around remembering wonderful memories Ian and I had made. We had cruised on the Carnival Fantasy in 2014 as well.
Preparations to bring Ian home were crazy. In order to get his body shipped back to the states the funeral home had to be paid IN FULL prior to them shipping him. Ian’s wishes were to be cremated so that helped a lot with the cost. It is cheaper to ship cremains than a body.However, there was no crematory in Grand Turk. We still had to get him shipped to Florida for cremation. The original invoice received from Corey's Funeral Chapel had costs that were extremely unreasonable. Understanding that we were dealing with another country and were truly at their mercy, I still wasn't going to give in without a bit of a fight.
Just one example, $300 for a hearse? Why? The island isn't that big. Fuel surely isn't THAT expensive and you are not having to do a lot for a funeral "service", just preparing and shipping. Ultimately, the prices that Corey's Funeral Chapel were charging were too high. That is what lead us to Rock of Ages in Nassau. The director there worked with us to get Ian shipped to Florida and cremated there. His cost was reasonable and he worked through his contacts in Florida. Rock of Ages worked with me in the fact that they only asked for half the cost up front and the remainder upon the shipment of cremains.
Thankfully, with the GoFundMe we set up, I was able to raise the money needed in such a short time and pay Rock of Ages in Full. We received Ian at home in North Carolina on December 11th."
The Gofundme account was set up to raise money for the costs associated with getting Ian home. A goal amount of $6,770 was set and through the donations of 109 people $7,488 was raised. Aleta was able to bring Ian home and begin to really grieve the loss of her finance and best friend.
The Gofundme page says, "Anyone who has had to go through taking care of arrangements for a loved one who has passed knows that a death certificate is the key to moving forward in any and all processes. However, Grand Turk will not send a death certificate until the funeral home is paid for taking care of and sending Ian home. Ian's family, children, and loved ones all knew of his wishes for cremation, but having to take care of this internationally has put a halt on all arrangements until payment has been received."
Courtney Easterling, Aleta's daughter, posted a video online taken during the cruise showing Ian on the Carnival Fantasy stage having a great time. He was called up to perform Diana Ross and Supremes' song, Stop in the Name of Love, along with two other passengers from the Carolinas.
A Celebration of Life Service was held on Saturday, December 12th, 2015, at The Pointe Church in Belmont, North Carolina.
At post time, Aleta has yet to obtain an autopsy report, toxicology report, police report and medical examiner report. She has called and emailed multiple times, to the hospital and police department with no results. These reports are needed to file a claim with the mortgage insurance company. It has been one of the many complications she has faced due to Ian’s death taking place outside the United States.