In what could be the saddest case of a cruise line accident in many years, police are considering charges of negligence after an 18-month old toddler slipped from her grandfather’s arms and plunged to her death from the 11th floor of a Royal Caribbean ship.
Chloe Wiegland fell 45 metres from a window on Freedom of the Seas onto a concrete pier in San Juan on Sunday afternoon while the vessel was docked. She died shortly after the incident in hospital.
Police are now trying to establish if the cruise line or grandfather Salvatore Anello should be charged with negligence.
Mr Anello reportedly sat his granddaughter on the railing of an open window while the family were in the outdoor dining area on the ship. It is believed he was playing a game when she slipped from his arms and fell out of the window.
At one stage, it was suggested Mr Anello had lifted the tiny tot out of the window.
But the family’s lawyer hit back, denying the girl was dangled out the window “Michael Jackson style” and claiming blame for the tragedy lies with Royal Caribbean.
Michael Winkleman, acting for the family, maintained Mr Anello placed the child on a railing he believed was behind a glass pane in a part of the ship “designed for kids.”
He told NBC: “There’s a whole wall of windows [on the ship]. The grandfather thought that this window was closed. It turns out, we’ve come to learn, that … passengers can open these windows.
“Unknowingly, the grandfather places Chloe on the wood railing before the wall of windows, believing Chloe will bang on the glass just like she does at her brother’s hockey games. The next thing he knows, she’s gone.
“Why in the world would you leave a window open in an entire glass wall full of windows in a kid’s area?”
Puerto Rico’s Public Security Secretary Elmer Román said “multiple angles” are being looked at in her death, including possible negligence by Royal Caribbean Cruises.
A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said on Monday: “We are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic incident, and our hearts go out to the family. We’ve made our Care Team available to assist the family with any resources they need.
“Out of respect for their privacy, we do not plan to comment further on the incident.”
It is not clear whether Mr Anello or anyone else will be prosecuted. Investigators are reviewing CCTV footage and interviewing passengers before deciding whether to file charges.
Henry Escalera Rivera, Commissioner of the Police Bureau, told Prima Hora: “This is a process that is under investigation.”
Mr Roman told the Primera Hora newspaper just after the incident: “One of the grandfathers, whom it would appear was playing with the little girl, lifted her out of the open window and lost his grip.”
Witnesses told how they heard the family, from Indiana, US, wailing in agony after Chloe fell to her death.
Kimberley Schultz Wiegland posted pictures of herself with her daughter on Facebook. Friends and family left comments like: “Sweet angel. Praying for you and your family Kim.”
Another wrote: “You are loved. Praying for you and your family. I’m so sorry.”
The child’s father is a police officer in Indiana.