Couple evacuated from cruise ship during coronavirus outbreak back home in Tampa Bay


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Gay and Phil Courter are adjusting to life back in their Crystal River home after nearly a month in quarantine on a cruise ship in Japan and Air Force Base in Texas.

“We had no idea this was going to be a global issue nor did we expect it would be a problem in Florida,” Mrs. Courter said Thursday afternoon about the novel coronavirus.

8 on Your Side followed the couple’s journey ever since they sounded the alarm about the failed quarantine on the Diamond Princess.

“We’ve been all over the world on cruise ships,” Mrs. Courter said.

But she and her husband of nearly 52 years had never been on a ship during an infections disease outbreak.

“We feel like we really dodged a bullet,” Mrs. Courter told 8 On Your Side, adding she feels very lucky they did not become infected given their age in the mid-70s.

More than 700 passengers on the Diamond Princess became infected.

“Thank goodness the Americans came for us,” she said. “We started to panic very early as we watched the ambulances coming and coming and then we would be told by the captain, ten more sick today, 20 more sick, 100 are sick.”

The Courters are among more than 300 American passengers evacuated from the ship and brought back to the United States on two Department of State chartered flights.

“We stayed healthy with that crazy, crazy airplane ride back to Texas,” Mr. Courter said. “We stayed healthy in Texas, so we’re very very lucky, but we played by the rules.”

After staying virus-free during two weeks of quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base, one final obstacle kept the Courters from their home in Florida. The Mayor of San Antonio issued an emergency order Monday prohibiting the quarantined evacuees from leaving.

“We went to bed that night not knowing if we were ever going to go home,” Mrs. Courter said.

But the next day, a private plane picked them up at an airfield by the base for the final leg of their journey.

“I find myself just kind staring off in the distance,” Mr. Courter said, “Its so nice to be home.”

They are reunited with their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Willoughby after 50 days apart.

“We’re sleeping a lot better with her to cuddle,” Mrs. Courter said.

The Courters tell 8 on Your Side they know they’re not completely in the clear with confirmed cases of coronavirus in Tampa Bay.

“We’re just as vulnerable as you are if I go to the supermarket tomorrow morning,” Mrs. Courter said.

Ironically, the last novel by Mrs. Courter, The Girl in the Box, is about a murder mystery on a cruise ship based on the Diamond Princess.

She said she had more time while in Texas to work on her next book about this entire order and her agent is already shopping it around.

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