John Heald writes a blog followed by almost 7 million people, which in and of itself is amazing. But what is critical from a social media standpoint is how he has addressed the accident on the ship: with pure honesty, humor, and enough irreverence to make it clear he is a straight shooter and giving you the unvarnished truth. If you read the responses to each post, you can easily see how his candor has endeared him to a huge audience and made a brewing PR nightmare into an opportunity for people to empathize with the crew and Carnival. This is the opposite of United Breaks Guitars for those of you keeping score.
Here are his latest three blog posts. Warning, he is a bit saucy, but that is just his style and that's what makes these posts so wonderful and believable...
Posted on November 12, 2010 by John Heald
Megan walked towards me, the soft glow of moonlight radiating off her naked bottom. Her eyes met mine and I knew that it wasn’t Brad or George or Johnny that she wanted……oh no……….I knew that it was me that her heart was beating for. I motioned her to come to me and she walked seductively towards me and soon her naked body was lying next to mine and she knew that she was about to have the best 3 minutes of rumpy pumpy she had ever had. Megan looked at me and then in the most sensuous of voices said……..”ALPHA TEAM, ALPHA TEAM ALPHA TEAM, DECK 0 ENGINE CONTROL ROOM.”
I awoke with a start and it took me a few moments to get rid of the thought of my idol’s bottom and realise what announcement I had just heard. It was 6:05 am and the officer on watch had just called for Alpha Team, the emergency code for our fire squad to go the engine control room. It was 6:05 am, this wasn’t a drill………..oh f**k!
The following is going to be my honest and open account of what happened. It will be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth because that is what I always write here and this particular blog thingy must be no different. And besides…….that is what our President and CEO Gerry Cahill told me to write when I met with him today and more about that later. Just bear in mind that the times cited in this blog are all estimates as it has certainly been a long couple of days.
So, there I am. It’s 6:05 am and the bridge have just called for the fire squad and I knew what was about to happen next. And sure enough it did. I farted.
Next the other thing that I knew would happen next did as well, my phone rang and a slightly breathless voice said “John, come to the bridge immediately.”
So I jumped out of bed and decided that “immediately” probably wasn’t a good idea because a) I was in my underpants and b) I had been in the middle of a dream about Megan’s bottom….. if you know what I mean. Anyway, I threw on a T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants little knowing that I wouldn’t be separated from these clothes for the next 24 hours. I had gotten dressed and started my journey to the bridge in the space of maybe 2 minutes after the call had come and all the while my heart began to pound………this wasn’t a drill………….this was the real thing.
Yet, on my way to the bridge the thoughts in my head were that it was a small fire and that within the next few minutes it would all be over. In fact I guess it’s safe to say that even though I had just heard the Alpha Team call that as I approached the bridge I was as unprepared for what awaited as a Frenchman who has been asked to write an essay on the joys of taking a bath.
I opened the door to the bridge to the sound of alarms screaming from the fire station control which were doing battle with the crackle of walkie talkies and the commands of Captain Cupisti. It’s funny that throughout the last few days how certain things have stayed lodged in my memory as clear as crystal while some things have disappeared from my mind totally. One such memory is of Captain Cupisti’s hair. Whenever I see him he looks like he has stepped off the front page of GQ Magazine but as I walked on the bridge his hair looked like he had slept in a crash helmet which he had just taken off.
I stood there not wanting to interfere but making sure I put myself in the captain’s eye line so that he knew I was there as and when needed. Let me try and explain what was happening. The captain had an internal ship’s chart on the table marking off where each fire squad was stationed, where he wanted the cooling down teams and speaking slowly and with authority into the walkie talkie to the fire teams, the chief engineer and the staff captain.
Meanwhile every deck officer was expertly doing what they had to do from checking the radar to assisting with the fire teams and organizing and putting on alert all the respective parties. What is so ironic of course is that just 24 hours earlier this same captain and officers and the same fire teams had done all of this in a simulation for our United States Coast Guard inspection which they passed with flying colours.
Now remember all of what I have described so far has happened in a space of seconds but still I didn’t realise how serious was this until something slapped me in the face as hard as the time I tried to grope Sally Poole’s breasts behind the bike shed at school. At that wakeup call came when I heard our staff captain’s voice come through the walkie talkie and say “There is thick smoke, thick smoke. We can’t see anything. That was when I said a silent “Oh bugger” and our adventures began.
I now realised it was time for me to talk to the guests all of whom would have heard the “Alpha Team” call which was made through the emergency system. Can I just stop here and mention the following just once because I really don’t want to sound like I am patting myself on the bottom and saying well done John. Because I am not. But I do want to mention a few things here about my role in all of this before the story continues.
I have often written that in cases of unexpected occurrences on a cruise ship that it is the cruise director’s job to inform the guests, truthfully at all times and to do so calmly and reassuringly and as often as possible. This is the CD’s role and although it cannot be compared to the people who were currently in the engine room and on the bridge, it is none the less an important one and I can only hope that I managed to achieve the goals I have just described. So, let’s get back to the story shall we and here is the first conversation between the captain and I as best as I can remember.
CAPTAIN: JOHN, TELL THE GUESTS WE HAVE LOTS OF SMOKE IN THE ENGINE ROOM AND THAT WE ARE INVESTIGATING.JOHN: CAPTAIN, WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO DO THIS THROUGH THE EMERGENCY SYSTEMCAPTAIN: YES
And so I pressed the dreaded button number one on the PA system which apart from when we conduct the rehearsal safety briefing on embarkation day is a button that no cruise director ever likes to use because usually it means if you are that you are in the sh*t.
6:20amLadies and Gentlemen. My sincere apologies for waking you up but as you may have heard we have just used an Alpha Team call which is the alert for our fire teams to attend. At this moment the captain has informed me that there is lots of smoke in part of the aft engine room on deck 0. (A side note: I told the guests this in case they thought the engine room may be close to guests’ cabins which of course it isn’t.). Please would all guests remain in their cabins while we investigate and regardless of if there is any more information I will return in 5 minutes with an update. Please don’t worry and I promise I will keep you informed.
I made this announcement as calmly as possible and “breathing” the words so not to sound anxious at all, even though I was.
During the next five minutes it became more and more obvious that this was a serious situation. I positioned myself closely to the captain so I could hear firsthand what was happening and so that he wouldn’t have to worry about if I had understood or not. As promised 5 minutes later and five minutes later after that I repeated my first announcement and told them there was still nothing further to report and highlighted the “Please don’t worry” bit again. I had nothing new to report but as I had promised the guests I wasn’t going to leave them in the dark (although later they would be) and kept talking to them as much as I could.
The next announcement though wasn’t for the guests ……..it was for the crew……….and in my 24 years at sea it was the first time I had ever had to do so. Here’s what happened.
6:45amCAPTAIN: JOHN, WE NEED TO SEND THE CREW TO THEIR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONSI looked into my friend Claudio’s eyes and I could see the worry that was there but also the strong conviction that he had no choice.JOHN: UNDERSTOOD CAPTAIN……CREW TO THEIR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS.
When a crew member gets on a ship, whatever his or her position onboard, before they are bar waiters or dancers or photographers or stateroom stewards………each and every crew member is a sailor whose primary task is the safety of the guests and themselves. Each of us has a station or assignment to go to and all are well trained in what needs to be done. And so with a lump in my throat, I made the following announcement.
JOHN: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY IS ONLY FOR OUR CREW MEMBERS AND I PROMISE IS MERELY A PRECAUTION SO PLEASE DO NOT WORRY AND TRY TO STAY CALM.CREW – I NEED YOU ALL TO PLEASE NOW GO TO YOUR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS. WE HAVE OUR ALPHA TEAMS INVESTIGATING A SITUATION IN THE ENGINE ROOM AND AT THIS TIME THE CAPTAIN NEEDS YOUR HELP.PLEASE GO TO YOUR STATIONS. WE HAVE REHEARSED THIS TIME AND TIME AGAIN HAVEN’T WE? SO LET’S DO WHAT WE HAVE TO DO IN A CALM AND PROFESSIONAL WAY. ALL CREW TO THEIR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS.
I should point out here that you may have noticed that I have not used the word fire. I heard that one or two guests had told the media that I had never used the word fire. This is not true. I was going to say this is bollocks but I won’t.
However, at this point I had not used the “F” word because the reports from the engine room were that all the teams could see was thick white smoke……no flames…… just thick white smoke. And those words had been repeated to me by the captain when he had me make announcements. He used the word “smoke” not “fire” and so those were the words I had repeated to the guests.
So now the crew were at their emergency stations and when I say the crew I mean every single crew member went immediately because the Carnival crew are brilliant and…..they are not Greek and thus in the lifeboats before the guests.
During the next 10 minutes I kept talking to the guests reminding them to stay in their cabins and did my best to keep them calm. I also spoke to the crew, telling them to remember their training and to also stay calm. And they did, both the guests and the crew did exactly what I asked of them and meanwhile I waited for the captain to tell me what was next. And what was next was that the smoke was so intense and so thick that even with breathing apparatus on the teams could not get close to the source.
I looked at Captain Cupisti………….he looked back at me and shook his head slightly …………… and that’s when I ruined a really good pair of underpants.
Part 2 to follow soon.
Posted on November 12, 2010 by John Heald
Welcome back. When you left us the crew was at their muster stations, the guests were in their staterooms listening to my voice that was keeping them informed and hopefully keeping them calm. Meanwhile the fire squads have had to come out of the engine room because the smoke was so thick, the captain is thinking what to do next and I am touching cloth.
It was at 7 am when we started getting reports that the smell of smoke was getting heavier and heavier in the guest areas and so after discussion with the captain it was decided that we should move all the guests from the aft section of the ship to the open decks. The conversation went something like this.
CAPTAIN JOHN: I AM CONCERNED THAT THE GUESTS MAY BE AFFECTED BY THE SMOKE SO WE NEED TO MOVE THEM TO THE OPEN DECKSJOHN: JUST THE AFT SECTION CAPTAIN?CAPTAIN: YES FOR NOW
Now remember the aft section is the group of cabins on decks 1, 2,6,7, and 8 that are above the engine room and so these were the cabins that were already smelling the smoke. Now I want to underline the word “smelling” in fact I would underline it if I knew how to on this sodding computer but what I want to emphasize is that these cabins smelt the smoke…..they did not see it. I was asked by a reporter today if reports that smoke was “bellowing down the corridor” were true. No, they were not! And so after a few deep breaths to make sure there was no anxiety in my voice, I made this announcement at just after 7 am.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – SOME OF YOU WHOSE CABINS ARE AT THE BACK SECTION OF THE VESSEL MAY BE SMELLING SMOKE. THEREFORE THE CAPTAIN HAS ASKED ALL GUESTS WHO ARE STAYING TOWARDS THE AFT SECTION OF THE SHIP ON DECKS 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, PLEASE DRESS WARMLY AND COME TO DECK 9, OR ON DECK 3.IF YOU ARE ON THE MID SHIP OR FORWARD PART OF THE VESSEL PLEASE REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE FOR NOW. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I KNOW SOME OF YOU MAY BE WORRIED AND CONCERENED SO PLEASE LET ME TELL YOU THAT WE ARE HERE TO HELP YOU AND THAT ALL OF THE CREW TRAIN FOR THESE SITUATIONS EVERY WEEK. PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM AND……….STAND BY PLEASE
Now the standby was because suddenly I realised I had made a huge mistake. I looked across at the captain who was busy in conversation with the fire squads and asked him one simple word but it was a word that would make such a difference to the guests. And that word was……. “life jackets.” As in do the guests need to bring them. The captain shook his head and I went back to my announcement.
SORRY LADIES AND GENTLEMEN………..I WANTED TO CHECK SOMETHING WITH THE CAPTAIN…………YOU DO NOT NEED YOUR LIFEJACKETS………..THIS IS JUST A PRECAUTION AGAINST THE SMOKE YOU ARE SMELLING. CREW MEMBERS, PLEASE ASSIST THE GUESTS TO THE OPEN DECKS.
And they did and as they moved to the open decks I kept talking to the guests and the crew on the PA system. I have no idea what I said, it was mostly waffle but waffle intended to calm everyone and I can only hope it worked. During all this time lots of things were happening all around me and I thought I would list some of the things I remember in a list format only because it helps me remember and I thought you might like to know what happens in such an event.
1. The captain had one of his officers call the Miami office operations manager on duty to let him know what was happening
2. The captain instructs all radio and telephone conversations to be conducted in English not Italian so that when they are played back on the voice recorders installed on the bridge that those listening will understand.
3. The captain instructed the 1st officer to make sure each fire squad recorded their oxygen levels with the bridge before they entered the engine room.
4. Duncan, my great friend and hotel director organised the special needs team whose went to help the guests in wheelchairs and those hearing impaired guests to the open decks.
5. The Chief Engineer Marco told the captain that the smoke was white, not black which suggested an electrical fire and not a fuel based fire.
6. The captain instructed the 1st officer to call United States Coast Guard on the VHF Radio and Satcom phone and told them what was happening and what the ship’s position was.
7. The Housekeeping Manager Rudy reported that the smell of smoke was now obvious across the ship.
It was that last one, number 7 that prompted the following conversation.
CAPTAIN: JOHN PLEASE PUT ALL THE GUESTS ON THE OPEN DECKS
And I was just about to do this when I heard for the very first time….the dreaded word……. fire on the walkie talkie, but I ignored it and was about to make an announcement when I also heard that we had lost power to all the elevators…….oh bugger. This changed my whole announcement which now went like this.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN AS THE SMELL OF SMOKE IS AFFECTING MOST OF THE SHIP NOW THE CAPTAIN HAS ASKED ME TO ADVISE THAT YOU ALL MOVE TO THE OPEN DECKS PLEASE. NOW UNFORTUNATELY THE ELEVATORS ARE NOW OUT OF ORDER AND SO PLEASE USE THE STAIRS.IF YOU NEED ASSISTANCE OUR CREW WILL PROVIDE IT FOR YOU. PLEASE STAY CALM, YOU DO NOT NEED YOUR LIFE JACKETS BUT I DO NEED YOU TO PLEASE MOVE TO THE OPEN DECKS FOR NOW.
I once again waffled on with what I hoped were calming words and which I will not bore you with here.
As I said earlier, Duncan and Rudy were organizing their special needs teams and making sure they were carried down the stairs to the open decks. Reports were that all the guests were calm and doing exactly what they were told. And so my attention turned to the word “fire” that I had heard seconds before making my announcement.
OK, let’s pause here so I can tell you something which regular readers of this blog will already know. I am to technology what Oprah Winfrey is to cage fighting. I can’t even operate the coffee make at home so I am not going to try and explain what happened or what caused it to happen.
Obviously this incident is, as I write, under investigation by a team of beards What I can tell you is that when I first heard the word fire it was because one of the fire teams had seen some electrical cabling was on fire……..and that was not good news at all.
It was then that I suddenly realised something which should have been obvious from the moment I walked on the bridge. We were dead in the water. There was no air conditioning, no lights and now no elevators.
It didn’t take Mr. Scott (Star Trek reference) to realise that there was no power on board ……….. this was getting very serious indeed.
Part 3 soon..
Posted on November 12, 2010 by John Heald
So where were we? Oh yes, I had been awoken from dreaming about the world’s most gorgeous bottom, the Carnival Splendor’s engine room was full of smoke, some electrical cabling was on fire, the crew were at their general emergency stations and I had now asked all 3,299 guests to move to the open decks. The ship is dead in the water. We have no elevators and we are already noticing that many of the ship’s systems are down including the lighting with only the emergency low level lighting working. Apart from that and the fact that I had ruined a really good pair of Marks and Spencers (Brit shop) underpants…….everything was just spiffing.
Just before I continue with part 3 I have to tell you that the timeline that follows is somewhat hazy because as I will be telling you I spent the next 48 hours on the bridge with bugger all sleep so I think it’s best I don’t try and remember what times situations occurred because honestly I can’t.
Having moved the guests to the open decks the next thing for me to do was to talk to the staff and department heads and find out what was happening and that’s when we all realised that because we had no power that the ship’s phone systems were down. Now at this point I should say that the emergency generator was working but that provides limited facilities such as low level lighting and one or two other essentials……but the phones and ship’s internal cell phone system weren’t and so my next announcement was the following.
CREW – PLEASE TALK TO THE GUESTS AND LET THEM KNOW IF THEY NEED ANYTHING TO TELL YOU AND THEN PLEASE PASS THAT INFORMATION TO A SUPERVISOR OR MANAGER. EVERYONE – PLEASE TURN YOUR WALKIE TALKIE TO CHANNEL 7.
I did this because channel 1 which is our normal working channel was a bit busy with stuff like putting out fires. And so as the management put their walkie talkies to channel 7 reports started to come in. Here are some of the facts that were passed to me and which I then acted on and passed to the captain.
1. A thin haze of smoke could now be seen in the guest corridors on decks 1 and 2 aft. Either the smoke was now coming up from the engine room or someone was smoking something naughty. A few minutes later I received reports that a thin haze of smoke could now be seen on decks 1 and 2 mid-ship as well and that pretty much the entire inside of the vessel had been affected by the smell of the smoke which reports on channel 1 were still telling the captain it was thick.
2. Channel 1 then reported that the electrical cabling that had caught fire and had been extinguished had caught fire again. One of the fire squads were quickly dispatched to put it out again.
3. One of the crew reported that a guest was feeling unwell and she needed medical assistance. I called one of the nurses on the radio and she quickly attended to her. It was later reported to me that she was OK and had left the medical center and had suffered from a panic attack as had one of our crew.
And on that note I want to emphasise that these were the only reported injuries that occurred as a direct result of the incident in the engine room. I say this because as you will read in part…….. ummm …..97…..I participated in press briefing in San Diego and a reporter who looked like he was probably called Hank or Bob or asked me if it was true that there had been lots of injuries resulting from this incident. Yes, that’s true in much the same way as it’s true that I would look good in a leather thong and nipple tassels. There were no injuries from the fire.
I won’t bother telling you the announcements I made for the next 30 minutes because basically I never took my finger off the PA microphone. So much so that I honestly have a blister on my right thumb. I do have to say that you would think on a ship that cost $650 million we wouldn’t have gotten the microphone for the PA system from sodding Radio Shack. Anyway, the announcements were repetitive but the sense of calmness that I needed to do my best to give the guests was I felt of massive importance and so regardless of the fact that I had no new news, I continued to talk to them continuously. Then I heard this on the walkie talkie.
“THERE ARE AROUND 150 GUESTS STANDING BY THE LIFEBOATS ON DECK 4.”
Bugger…..I had messed up. I was so mad at myself. I had told the guests to go to the open decks, yet I hadn’t been specific and told them that we did not want them at their muster stations on deck 4. What a total plonker (www.urbandictionary.com) and what a stupid mistake I had made. And so that was me back on the PA system.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I AM TOLD THAT SOME OF YOU ARE STANDING BY YOUR DESIGNATED LIFEBOATS ON DECK NUMBER 4. PLEASE DON’T WAIT THERE AS THERE IS NO SEATING AND THERE IS NO NEED TO BE BY THE LIFEBOATS. STAFF WILL ASSIST YOU TO DECK 3 AND THE OPEN DECKS THERE WHERE DECK CHAIRS ARE AVAILABLE. I AM SO SORRY THAT I WASN’T MORE SPECIFIC.
Crew then helped those at deck 4 reach the open decks and I continued to be mad at myself.
I mentioned at the start of today’s blog that my recollection of times is unclear but I guess it was an hour before the next major occurrence happened. During that hour we did the following:
1. The food and beverage teams walked around giving bottled water to everyone.
2. It was reported to be 60 degrees outside and people were cold on the open decks. I therefore asked the housekeeping manager to have his team grab as many blankets as possible and deliver them to the open decks where all the guests were gathered. Note to self and to any other cruise director who ever has to go through something similar. If you have to evacuate guests to the open decks please remember to have them bring the blankets or duvets from their cabins. We discovered that we didn’t have enough blankets for all the guests and had to give some the beach towels……..another mistake by yours truly.
3. Special needs teams were now in position all over the ship by stairwells and in corridors and they remained there until we arrived back in San Diego. They were magnificent and not only did they carry people down and up stairs they checked on them in their staterooms continuously and were always there.
Well, the smoke was so thick still in the engine room that the fire squads were having difficulties in reaching its source and the smoke wasn’t just thick there either but also in a place called the marshaling area. This is one of the largest spaces in the crew areas and it’s where stores are kept and where we store luggage and other essentials. Thank goodness it was mostly empty at the time this was all going on, if it had been full of luggage cages and stores it would have made things much more difficult.
So with the smoke needing to be cleared before fire squads could reenter the scene the captain gave the order to open the shell doors on port and starboard sides of the ship to let the smoke blow out naturally. Our extraction systems were working hard but were not enough so the huge doors at the side of the ship where we tie up tenders and fuel barges etc were opened.
Remember the ship is dead in the water but there was no danger of waves spilling into the ship because the sea conditions were calm. But there was a light wind and that certainly helped disapissate (spelt correctly) some of the smoke from the marshaling area which was the same smoke that had crept into guest areas. I told the guests what was happening and that the smoke was retreating.
But that was only a small piece of good news. The bad news was that the smoke was still very thick in the engine room and that the electrical cabling had caught fire again. The captain had conferred with Carnival’s Miami-based command center but ultimately the next choice was his and his alone.
Should he or should he not flood the entire engine room with CO2? This was a huge decision to make as it would mean flooding not just the area on fire but the whole engine room. He would need to make sure that all crew were out of the area because CO2 sucks oxygen from the air making it highly dangerous to people but good for putting out fires.
Captain Cupisti walked to the port side of the bridge……he opened the window and breathed in some fresh air. I stood next to him and put a hand on his shoulder, words were not necessary. A group of officers had gathered behind him. The walkie talkies had gone quiet as everyone waited. Nobody was going to intervene. The captain’s body language said that this was his decision alone to make and after taking one more gulp of air he turned on his heel, picked up the walkie talkie and calmly and with total self belief said, “Clear the engine room, we are going to deploy the CO2.”
Part 4 will be tomorrow. For now I have to go read the 344 e-mails I seem to have and ……… bugger………..I also have lots of Spam.