One of the tests which Dr. Henry Lee wanted to perform during his inspection of the Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship was dropping a life size mannequin from the rail of the balcony.
A metal awning is located several floors below the balcony. It is around 12 feet wide and ran the length of the cruise ship, covering the lifeboats on each side of the ship. It is convex in shape with the high point in the middle, sloping gradually on one side toward the ship and on the other side gradually toward the water.
Before we boarded the cruise ship, Dr. Lee explained the tests he wanted to perform.
One of the issues which we wanted to determine was where the mannequin would land on the surface below. What was the most likely location where the “dummy” would land if it was sitting on the rail and slipped and fell straight down? Where would the dummy land if thrown from the balcony? On which side of the high point of the surface would it land? Would the mannequin tend to roll toward the water or safely back toward the side of the cruise ship?
Answers to these questions may assist in answering the basic question of whether Mr. Smith slipped off of the balcony or he was thrown overboard. There was great debate in the media about this. Was there a fight in the cabin which led to Mr. Smith going over the rail? Or was this a simple case of falling overboard? Vanity Fair magazine published an article which concluded that Mr. Smith was intoxicated and decided to sit on the balcony rail and fell off while smoking a cigarette – a conclusion I thought was unsubstantiated and silly.
Before we arrived at the port, the cruise line notified me that Dr. Lee would not be permitted to conduct the test. With news reporters and camera crews at the port covering Dr. Lee’s inspection and helicopters hovering overhead, the images of a mannequin repeatedly being thrown over the rail was obviously a spectacle Royal Caribbean wished to avoid being shown on the nightly news channels.
On the morning of the inspection, I decided that our team would not take "no" for an answer. So I placed the dummy in a six foot box, tucked the box under my arm, and walked toward the cruise terminal with Dr. Lee and our team.
One of the senior security officials at the cruise line stopped me outside of the entrance to the terminal. He told me that I would not be allowed to enter the terminal with the mannequin. About a hundred news reporters and cameras were watching about 50 feet away. I smiled and asked him if he wanted to get into an arm wrestling match before the reporters? He smiled back and said no. We entered the terminal with the mannequin.
Once I and the dummy were inside the terminal and outside of the view of the cameras, the cruise line security personnel confiscated the mannequin. The test would not take place.
Royal Caribbean would later tell the media that it did not permit the tests for the "safety of passengers." The cruise line also offered an opportunity for us to conduct the test while the vessel was in dry-dock in the Bahamas, safely outside the view of the U.S. media. But flying Dr. Lee and his team around the country was not an inexpensive undertaking.
Dr. Lee never performed this experiment.
I have always wondered what the tests would have revealed. Is it possible to fall off the balcony and roll off of the awning? Or could this have happened only by being thrown over the rail and/or dragged off of the surface below?
This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV – Six Years Later.
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Photo credits: MSNBC