MIAMI (AP) – A cruise passenger who was captured on video clinging to a lifeboat and falling into the ocean had a fight with his partner just moments before and had threatened to jump overboard, authorities said Monday.
Bernardo Garcia Teixeira, 31, was presumed dead after he fell into the water early Friday. Police and the cruise line say he intentionally jumped off a balcony. An attorney for Garcia Teixeira's family said he fell over the railing.
Garcia Teixeira and his partner, Erik Elbaz, 34, were on Royal Caribbean Cruises' Oasis of the Seas when the ship's security responded to their cabin regarding a domestic disturbance between the two men, the Broward Sheriff's Office said. Security reported evidence of a fight in the couple's room.
Homicide detectives reviewed video taken from Garcia Teixeira's cellphone of the couple's interactions with the ship's security, the sheriff's office said. Garcia Teixeira can be heard declaring that he was planning to jump overboard.
In the recording, Garcia Teixeira can be seen running toward the balcony of his room on the seventh-level deck. The video also shows Elbaz run after Garcia Teixeira, followed by the ship's security staff. Garcia Teixeira jumped from the balcony and landed on a lifeboat hanging next to the fifth deck, authorities said.
Fellow passengers watched in horror as Garcia Teixeira held on for more than a minute as staff members tried to rescue him. Garcia Teixeira eventually fell into the ocean. A short video clip was briefly posted to YouTube but then taken down.
Michael Winkleman, an attorney for Garcia Teixeira's family, said the incident was preceded by homophobic comments by the ship's crew toward Garcia Teixeira and Elbaz, who have been married for about a year. The couple was living in New York City. Garcia Teixeira was originally from Brazil.
There was no fight between the two, the attorney said, explaining that Garcia Teixeira damaged the room because he was angry at the way he was treated, despite making complaints to managers.
Elbaz also told the attorney that Garcia Teixeira initially landed flat on top of the lifeboat and only ended up hanging off the side because of the way crew members repositioned him.
"There are more unanswered questions than answers, but I think even from what we've seen it's clear that Royal Caribbean acted improperly in treating these guests this way and making the anti-gay comments," Winkleman said. "And it's equally clear, if not more clear, that they mishandled the rescue operation."
Royal Caribbean has not responded to those specific accusations but said security acted professionally and appropriately. The company added that crew members risked their own lives in an attempt to rescue Garcia Teixeira.
"Our ship's security officers responded to reports of domestic dispute loud enough to be heard from several staterooms away," Royal Caribbean said in a statement. "The room was in a state of disarray, and both lamps in the room had been broken. Our officers interviewed the guests separately about their dispute, as is standard procedure. The officers were not in the room when the guest chose to jump off his balcony."
The cruise ship remained in the area, about 17 miles from Turks and Caicos, overnight to assist with a search and then continued on its way later Friday morning. The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Saturday. Garcia Teixeira's body has not been recovered.