Family speaks out following toddler's Royal Caribbean cruise ship death
The grieving family of a 1-year-old girl who fell to her death Sunday from the 11th floor of a docked cruise ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is searching for answers following the tragic incident.
Chloe Wiegand, the daughter of Alan and Kimberly Wiegand, of Granger, Ind., was in a clear-glass, enclosed children's play space aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas with her maternal grandfather, Salvatore Aiello, in the moments leading up to her death, her family's lawyer, Michael Winkleman, told NBC News.
Aiello allegedly placed the toddler on a railing he believed was backed by glass so she could look outside. The infant then reportedly leaned forward to bang on the window —as she normally would when she watched her brothers play hockey at an ice rink, according to Winkleman — and unexpectedly toppled out of the open panel.
"Essentially her grandfather lifts her up and puts her on a railing and where he thinks that there is glass there because it's clear, but it turns out there was no glass there," Winkleman told the news outlet. "She goes to bang on the glass like she would have at one of those hockey rinks, and the next thing you know, she's gone."
Chloe fell an estimated 150 feet from one of the ship's highest decks, hitting an awning before landing on the concrete dock below. Officials say she died on impact.
"It's a very grave scene, very regrettable and tragic," Elmer Román, an official with the Puerto Rican Department of Public Security, told Primera Hora on Sunday.
An eyewitness who was aboard the Freedom of the Seas at the time of the incident said the girl's mother's screams of pain could "not compare with any other scream."
The toddler's devastated family members, who will remain in Puerto Rico while her death is investigated, now want to know why Royal Caribbean had open glass panels in an area designed for small children.
"Why in the world would you leave a window open in an entire glass wall full of windows in a kid's area?" the family's attorney questioned in an interview with NBC News.
Following the tragedy, Royal Caribbean stated it was "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," the company said, noting, "out of respect for [the family's] privacy, we do not plan to comment further on the incident."
Mike Hamann, a St. Joseph County auditor who works with the victim's grandfather, told the South Bend Tribune that Anello is a "wonderful employee" who is "beloved by all."
"He is a hard-working employee," Hamann said. "We are crushed by this tragedy, and we all are mourning for him and his family."