The last thing Pat and Carla Nault expected on their Hawaii vacation was to be faced with the question of what they would do if these were their last few minutes.
As they were disembarking from their cruise ship at Honolulu the Naults and the others received the panic-inducing alert: “Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Ultimately a false alarm, the Naults spent 38 minutes fearing the worst as they waited for any information.
“It sure put an exclamation on it… Once you know you’re in the clear, then you can get your heartbeat back to normal and breathe normally and go on about with what you were going to do before, but with a story to tell,” Pat said.
Carla at first thought it was an amber alert and was confused as to why the alert would come to her phone while she was in Hawaii.
“Then I looked at my phone,” she said.
“It’s an eye opener,” Pat said Monday, back in Kilgore. “It really puts a lot of things in perspective.”
Knowing their children and grandchildren were safe in Kilgore 4,000 miles away, they said, the thoughts that ran through their minds when they saw the message ranged from wondering if it was real to thinking if their life is in order if it is real.
It was the final five words of the alert – “This is not a drill” – that rang loudly in their minds.
“Being that close to Pearl Harbor, that’s exactly what they announced when they were being bombed by Japan: ‘This is not a drill,’” Pat said.
“It said take shelter,” Carla added. “Where do you take shelter when there’s a ballistic missile headed your way?”
The first thing she wanted to do was to get off the ship, but those still on the ship at the time were told to stay on board as it was put on lockdown following the alert.
“That’s a strange feeling too when you want to get off – I don’t know where we were going to go – but that was uncomfortable that now we can’t even get off the ship,” she said.
Still on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Naults went to the lobby area of the ship trying to figure out what they should be doing or if there was any information about if the threat was real, a hack or a false alarm. The employees knew just as much as the passengers, though. Then, they started texting their son Todd, a Kilgore Police officer, to see if he could get any information.
“He was telling me there’s nothing on the news, there’s nothing coming across any news networks,” Carla said. “We weren’t hearing anything.”
“We’re kind of in limbo for 38 minutes on the ship,” Pat said, noting he was happy to see so many people praying.
It was as Carla was comforting some teenage children on the ship that she started to calm down also.
“You realize you’re not in control,” she said. “God’s in total control and we just have to stay in control of our emotions and try to stay calm… I would say for three to five minutes I really was about to have a full-blown panic attack, but you can’t do that. Something kicks in and you have control.”
They both thought the military would handle the situation before the missile reached the islands.
“I remember telling the young teenage boys they’re going to intercept it. Our military’s the best in the world,” she said. “I said the worst that would happen is you might have to stay in Hawaii a little longer… The little boy looked at me and said, ‘Lady are you sure?’” Assuring him the military would take care of the situation, Carla said, made her more sure also.
Pat said they just started thinking about their next move, knowing airports would be closed, most hotels would be booked and they would be unable to drive from Hawaii. It was then he thought the ship might be the best place to be because it had food, a bed and transportation.
As the minutes dragged on, Pat started thinking about how much time had passed and whether anything had changed, noting they were isolated on the ship with only their phones available to communicate and get any limited information.
“No one could tell us for 38 minutes it was a false alarm,” he said.
The couple booked the cruise, which visited each of the Hawaiian islands, to celebrate their 35th anniversary, and the alert came as the weeklong vacation was coming to an end.
“It was a definite exclamation point to the end of our trip… I’ll never forget that one,” Pat said. “Hawaii is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen with a lot of great memories there. At the time you hate to have that happen at the end of a nice vacation, but after it’s all over with and everything’ s OK then you can just kind of laugh about it.”
He added it also puts into perspective the real threat nuclear warheads pose. Although the alert did not name any nation or origin for the missile, Nault said, everyone just assumed it would be coming from North Korea.
“That was incredible to experience that, to know how those people have to live in that area… And it makes you wonder when they’re doing those test launches; they’ve all got to be worried whenever they do, every one of them, because how do they know it’s a test,” he said.
Being home in Kilgore, Pat said, feels a bit like a second chance.
“You never want to take for granted what you got, and just everyday’s a blessing,” he said. “Every day you wake up blinking and vertical, it’s a good thing.”
“I’m very blessed, but I think it makes you count those precious blessings,” Carla said. “They’re just a little sweeter now because I don’t usually think this, everyday could be the last few moments of my life. It makes you very appreciative of the blessings that you have.”