The search for Blake Kempley, a 20-year-old Fallbrook, CA man who went missing from the Holland America Line cruise ship MS Oosterdam on Friday, July 22, 2011 has officially been called off by the U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday, July 23, at 3:45 p.m. local time, as reported by KGTV 10News San Diego, KFMB CBS8, Haines Alaska News, the North County Times, USA Today, KUSI-TV, and other media sources in dispatches published on Monday, July 25, 2011.
Kempley was believed to have gone missing in the early morning hours on Friday, between 1:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. while the ship was sailing from Sitka to Ketchikan, as seen in the attached slide show and video clip which accompany this report.
His family, which included about a dozen persons, were celebrating the 80th birthday of Kempley’s grandmother, and reported him missing at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, as they were preparing to disembark.
The ship’s crew made several announcements trying to locate the young man, as well as conducting an onboard search, which is standard procedure when a guest cannot be located, before notifying the Coast Guard at 4:00 p.m. that a passenger had gone missing and was presumed overboard.
According to Brett Rivkind, an attorney in Fort Lauderdale, FL, who represents the families of cruise ship passengers, and writes about such shipboard disappearances, the Coast Guard’s combined search effort, which covered more than 352 miles, included three Air Station Sitka Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew searches, and on the water searches by the crews of the Coast Guard Cutter Naushon and a Small Boat Station Ketchikan 47-foot Motor Life Boat.
The search which lasted just short of 24 hours, was presumably called off based on the time a person could be expected to survive in the cold Alaskan waters, although weather was reported as clear and winds less than 10 miles an hour, with calm seas.
It is possible that shipboard security video might provide additional clues about this incident.
KGTV 10 News San Diego disclosed in an exclusive report, an email by a witnesses on board the ship who saw the family arguing that Mr. Kempley was not spending enough time with his family.
The message read, “Two passengers, twin sisters, told me they were walking on deck Thursday, July 21 at 8:15 p.m. and saw Blake by the railing. He was kneeling and had his hands in a prayer position, crying. A few minutes later they observed him being carried or dragged off the deck by a man and another young man. They believed that the man was his dad and a brother or cousin.”
All cruise ships keep computerized records whenever a passenger boards or leaves the vessel, by scanning the passenger’s boarding card, which generates a digital image of the traveler, which is then verified by a ship’s officer.
According to Attorney Rivkind, the disappearance of a cruise ship passenger either involves a suicide, an accident of falling overboard, which is difficult to accomplish, or foul play. Such mysteries are difficult to solve, unless a witness comes forth, or there is video evidence, or signs of a struggle showing that an assault, or other crime may have been committed.
Lisa Vorenkamp, a classmate at Fallbrook Union High School of the missing man, had pleasant memories of Kempley, saying “He was really the life of the party, and made class fun. He made sure everybody was happy and it’s not really like him to just disappear.”
What is clear, is that is that the disappearance of Blake Kempley is a terrible tragedy for a family that had been celebrating a happy milestone.
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