Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Two Holland America ships operated by Holland America Line, the Rotterdam and the Zaandam, were granted permission to dock at Port Everglades in Florida this past Thursday, after awaiting clearance earlier in the week. Since March 22, the ships had reported at least 233 passengers and crew having exhibited “influenza-like” symptoms and several confirmed cases of COVID-19. Four older guests also died aboard the Zaandam last week.
On Thursday afternoon, emergency personnel in protective gear were seen transporting guests in need of the most urgent medical care off the Zaandam on stretchers, with others leaving the ship on wheelchairs.
Passengers aboard the two ships continued to disembark throughout the day on Friday. A spokeswoman for Broward Health in Broward County, Fla., said Friday morning that some remained in critical condition, while others were described as being in fair condition.
The first few loads of passengers who did not require medical care were transported to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday morning, via “at least” four buses, The Associated Press reported. There, they were said to be bypassing the airport’s terminal to take the first chartered flights on their respective journeys home.
Speaking on “Fox & Friends Weekend” from Warren, N.J., on Sunday, Rick De Pinho described his return home saying, “We went from people surrounding us with hazmat suits to mixing with the general population.”
He added that “all it took” was a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta.
“It was really, a long, long, very long day,” he continued. “We got off the ship at 10 in the morning, sat on buses for a couple hours, had our motorcade to the airport, sat on the tarmac, eventually got on a plane and the plane sat there for a while.”
He went on to say the plane departed behind schedule that afternoon. “There were a couple missing passengers, they did roll call many times walking up and down the aisle. Eventually, though, that miracle flight took off,” De Pinho continued. “We landed in Atlanta. Once we got off the plane in Atlanta we had to be bused, of course, to the main buildings of the airport and once we were there, we were pretty much free to walk and mix with the general population in Atlanta.”
He said he and his wife raced to make their connecting flight. Their bags made it on the plane, but by the time he and his wife passed security and got to their gate, “the flight was gone.”
He continued, “We had to go back to the service center and rebook our flight to JFK [John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City], the epicenter of everything.”
As of Sunday, New York had the most confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in the country with over 122,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Fox News.
Holland America executives said in a statement, “We are very sorry for the frustrating air travel experience on top of everything this guest already endured and apologize for any confusion. We endeavored to fully communicate to each guest what their flight itinerary home would be. However, given the last-minute approval for docking in Fort Lauderdale, the disembarkation process was more challenging than normal.”
Fox News’ Michael Bartiromo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.