NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Ronnie Peale Jr. is one of seven brothers and sisters, loves Dr. Seuss books and Edgar Allan Poe, and has always been willing to help anyone he meets.
He easily made friends, and in typical fashion, he was doing just that on the Carnival Magic cruise he was on with his partner and her family – his first – showing his zest for life.
The ship was heading back to port in Norfolk from the Bahamas early Monday morning, but while his companion was asleep, Peale somehow fell overboard off the coast of Florida.
Later that morning, when his mother had not heard from him to check on his dogs, she had a sixth-sense that something had gone wrong.
“I had a really bad gut feeling in my heart,” said his mother, Linda Peale, her voice breaking. “You can’t put it in words, but a mama knows.”
After waking up later that morning, and not knowing his whereabouts, his companion, Jennilyn Blosser and her family searched the ship, as did the crew, to no avail.
Carnival Cruise Line reported that Peale fell into the Atlantic Ocean about 186 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida around 4:10 a.m. Monday morning. After an initial search, it said the ship was released from search and rescue efforts and instructed the captain to make its way back to port in Norfolk.
Carnival Cruise Lines personnel contacted the Coast Guard at 6:36 p.m. Monday to report a passenger, Peale, had fallen off the Carnival Magic and into the water.
The FBI also confirmed with 10 On Your Side Thursday that they are investigating this case, which is common for incidents on the high seas.
Coast Guard air crews and the Coast Guard cutter Escanaba aided with search and rescue efforts from the air and on the water, and U.S. Navy assets also helped in the search.
The Coast Guard said Wednesday evening that it had suspended the search for Peale after searching more than 5,171 square miles and 60 hours.
“The Seventh Coast Guard District dispatched multiple search and rescue assets as soon as we were notified of the missing person,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Hooper, Coast Guard District Seven search and rescue mission coordinator. “Our command center watchstanders provided search patterns to cutter crews and air crews who actively searched Monday through Wednesday evening.
“The decision to suspend the active search efforts pending further development is never one we take lightly. We offer our most sincere condolences to Mr. Peale’s family and friends.”
Coast Guard assets involved in the search included an Air Station Elizabeth City HC-130 Hercules aircrew, the Coast Guard Escanaba crew, Air Station Clearwater HC-130 Hercules aircrews and the Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry crew.
Blosser, who reported Peale missing late Monday afternoon, said his falling overboard the Carnival Magic was an accident. A review of the ship’s security footage “confirms that he leaned over the railing of his stateroom balcony and dropped into the water,” the cruise line said.
“He had been drinking all night, so I don’t know if he was leaning over to puke, or what happened,” Blosser said, “but they said it was not like he was jumping. It was not like that at all.”
Peale’s partner said it was not unusual for her to go to bed early and for him to stay up late and then wake up early to get coffee. She said she went to bed Sunday night and woke up late Monday morning, at 11:30 a.m., thinking he was somewhere else on the ship.
She, along with her family, spent the rest of the day trying to find him.
“I called his mom to see if he had called (her) because usually he’s always talking to his mom and she had not heard from him,” Blosser said. And that’s when we started to get customer service involved.”
Peale’s mother, Linda Peale, said she was watching her son’s dogs while he was on the cruise.
When she realized he was overboard?
“I was terrified and prayed non-stop,” Linda Peale said. “It was a shock, like, ‘Oh my God, how did this happen?'”
Blosser said he is usually gone in the morning because he wakes up to get coffee and she awakens later than him. Blosser got him a burger and then went to the casino, where she said he liked to hang out.
Peale, however, wasn’t there.
“I stayed in the room,” Blosser said, “and my family did a search on the ship. They went to customer service, and it says he purchased a drink at the bar, so I said, ‘He is OK, good.’ So we went up there and we could not find him.”
The purchase turned out to be from another family member.
They then went to Carnival Magic’s customer service, which called out his name on the intercom system numerous times.
Passengers on the ship recounted what they heard when they returned to Norfolk Tuesday morning.
“This morning we heard from people on a Facebook page that an individual did fall overboard,” passenger Jon Hernandez told WAVY.
Shannon Wallace said cruise ship employees were paging for the missing passenger for hours until they reviewed the cameras and determined he had gone overboard.
“It was sad,” Wallace said. “I mean we’re all eating dinner, and we’re trying to enjoy ourselves, knowing there is a man in the middle of the ocean dead or alive we don’t know.”
The Carnival care team is providing support to Blosser and her family at this time.
“I waited and waited and waited,” Blosser said, “and they searched under the bed and shower and cabinets in the cabin.”
“I never could have imagine(d) something like this could happen. Devastated to say the least.”
His mother said she was comforted by the words of a Coast Guard representative who had updated her on the search for her son.
He told her that “the will to live is one of the strongest things you can have,” she recounted. “My son had a will to live, a zest for life. He was the best person in the world, and I just hope the world did not take another good man too soon.”
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.