Carnival Sunshine Grand Cayman 2013

The Carnival "Sunshine."

As a Carnival cruise ship bound for the Caribbean began to tilt to one side last week, dishes crashed to the floor and members of a Statesville family began to wonder if they would sink into the ocean.

John Cole said he and 11 of his family members were ready to start their vacation, not expecting chaos to soon erupt on the ship.

The ship left Port Canaveral on Oct. 28 for a 5-day trip to the Caribbean. On the first evening, an electrical switchboard malfunctioned and impacted the ship’s fin stabilizers, causing the vessel to list to the left for a few minutes.

Cole said he and his family had just sat down to dinner when it happened.

“My glass started sliding just a bit, then it stopped,” Cole said Thursday in an interview. He was able to grab his glass, and he thought it was just the ocean moving the ship up and down.

“Two or three minutes later it starts sliding again but it didn’t stop,” he said. “Then the food started sliding, the wine, everything. ... It got dead quite in the dining room, then glass started breaking, chairs started sliding.”

The tilting caused food and dishes to scatter across the floor and water from the deck’s swimming pool to spill out to lower decks, Cole said. It stopped after about two or three minutes, he said, although it felt much longer.

He didn’t see anyone who was hurt, he said. His mom had a panic attack and was later checked out in an infirmary.

“I didn’t know what to think at the time,” Cole said. “People were praying, people were talking to God, kids were crying. You had to watch were you walked because there was broken glass everywhere.”

Employees reassured passengers and the staff told them what caused the listing the next morning, Cole said.

According to media reports, Carnival said the stabilizers are not for safety but rather guest comfort to minimize ship motion at sea. The cruise line said it quickly corrected the issue and apologized to passengers.

Two days into the cruise, the ship landed in the Dominican Republic. Many passengers refused to get back on the ship and flew back home instead, Cole said.

He and his family decided to continue on the ocean journey, even though two days earlier he was ready to abandon ship.

“I thought it was going down,” Cole said. “We were already four or five hours in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There was nothing you could do.”

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