Why Do Captains Abandon Ship? Page 2

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“We don't really have enough situations that happen like this to say he was a psychopath, but when you see so many other people in emergency situations who become heroes, and you have the norms of situation which are virtually universal that the captain is always last to leave the ship … something really had to have snapped,” Krauss said. “It's like his brain skipped 25 beats and he wasn't thinking. I don't think he's an evil person; he now regrets it, and he’s in his own personal hell.”

And while social norms point to the captain to be the hero, unlikely heroes have also emerged from shipwrecks. In 1991, for example, while the captain and crew of the cruise ship Oceanos packed their bags and abandoned ship during a storm without notifying passengers, entertainer Moss Hills sounded the alarm and organized the evacuation, staying on board until all 571 people on board had been sent off in rescue boats or helicopters.

“What rank are you?” the emergency responders asked when Hills radioed in the SOS. “I’m not a rank, I’m a guitarist,” Hills responded. When asked what he was doing there, Hill replied, “Well, there’s nobody else here.”

The U.S. Air Force is joining with leading universities to design next-gen rescue robots.
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“The positive message, if there is one, is that ordinary people often do act as heroes,” Whitbourne said. “it’s human tendency.”

Lee, who has been charged with abandoning his boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, and violating "seamen's law," has said that he didn’t evacuate the ship immediately because passengers may have had an extended wait in cold waters.

“Once the emergency is over, a captain who has failed the ‘hero standard’ must feel a very strong need to self-justify -- grounded in shame, guilt, legal vulnerability, etc.,” Sandman said  “So he/she makes up reasons for having abandoned ship prematurely.”

A better approach, he said, would require another kind of courage: “to say instead: 'I always assumed that if I ever faced a deadly emergency I would stay at my post, as duty requires.  To my shock and shame, I didn’t. I fled. I put my own survival ahead of my passengers’ survival. You never know how you will measure up to an awful moment like this until the awful moment arrives. Now I know. I was required to be a hero, and I was a coward instead.”

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