A British woman pulled from the waters off Croatia 10 hours after falling off a cruise ship into the Adriatic Sea is a 46-year-old air hostess who had spent the evening drinking, MailOnline can reveal.

Kay Longstaff is understood to have fallen from the seventh deck of the 92,000-ton Norwegian Star 60 miles off the Croatian coast as it headed towards Venice.

Her disappearance at about midnight local time on Saturday triggered a frantic search by the crew after the alarm was raised, amid claims she had left her handbag and passport on the deck before she fell.

The ship doubled back to the sea area where she was thought to be and carried out at least four passes in its search for the missing woman, before a coastguard cutter and Pilatus PC-9 spotter plane joined the hunt and found her at about noon yesterday.

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Speaking after her miraculous rescue Ms Longstaff, who lives on Spain's Costa del Sol, said: 'I fell off the back of the Norwegian Star, and was in the water for ten hours. Then these wonderful guys rescued me.'

The British tourist, who was yesterday said to be recovering, used to work as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic and now works on private planes.

One friend wrote on her Facebook page: 'So pleased you're OK and your strength got you through that horrid ordeal. Bless you... so pleased you are OK darling.'

Another said: 'OMG Kay! So glad you're OK, I couldn't believe my eyes.'

Ms Longstaff told Croatian television she was 'lucky to be alive' and it is not yet known how she managed to survive all night in the water or if she had help staying afloat from a life ring. Other passengers who were on the liner said the incident had been captured on the 17-year-old ship's CCTV system.

Norwegian Star had been heading back to Venice at the end of a seven-night voyage taking in Kotor, Montenegro and the Greek islands when the drama unfolded.

A Derbyshire businessman who was on board told the Daily Mail as passengers waited to disembark yesterday: 'We heard she was in a cabin on her own but had been travelling with family and friends. They raised the alarm when they realised she was missing. The ship turned around at about 2am and went back to the area where she fell. Coastguards found her at about midday local time today.'

The moment of rescue ... the woman is brought aboard the Coastguard boat. Photo / Supplied
The moment of rescue ... the woman is brought aboard the Coastguard boat. Photo / Supplied

The passenger, who asked not to be named, said ship staff had sealed off the area where she is said to have fallen with metal barriers.

'We were told she had left her handbag, which contained her passport, on the deck before falling, and that the incident was captured on CCTV,' he added. 'Apparently she had been drinking.' The ship should have berthed in Venice at 8am but did not arrive until 1.30pm local time, by which point the woman had returned by sea to Pula, northern Croatia, and had been taken to hospital for checks.

She was yesterday said to be recovering. She was found around almost a mile from where she fell in and was brought to safety after 10 hours when rescuers pulled her out of the sea and gave her emergency medical help, before taking her to hospital in Pula.

She was taken to hospital in Pula but was said to have been discharged shortly afterwards, with the British Embassy aware of the situation, The Sun reported.

Emergency services transported the woman to hospital, where she was checked and released. Photo / Supplied
Emergency services transported the woman to hospital, where she was checked and released. Photo / Supplied

A Croatian government spokesperson said the cruise ship staff would look at CCTV to find out how the British tourist had fallen into the sea. It was still not confirmed whether she fell or jumped, it was reported.

A passenger calling herself Seafoam Sally, who started a thread on the incident on the cruisecritic.com web forum, said passengers were informed just after 6am yesterday that a passenger had gone overboard overnight.

She added: 'Around 8am the captain notified us that he was suspending the search and rescue and heading back to Venice, but the Croatian coastguard would take over.'

The Croatian rescue ship was scrambled from the port of Vargarola and found her swimming 1,400 yards from where she was believed to have fallen overboard.

The rescue ship's captain, Lovro Oreskovic, said that she was exhausted and staff were 'extremely happy for saving a human life'.

The circumstances of the incident are being investigated and the British embassy in Croatia was informed.

A Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson said: 'In the morning of August 19, a guest went overboard as Norwegian Star made her way to Venice.

'The Coast Guard was notified and a search and rescue operation ensued. We are pleased to advise that the guest was found alive, is currently in stable condition, and has been taken ashore in Croatia for further treatment.

'We are very happy that the individual, who is a UK resident, is now safe and will soon be reunited with friends and family.

They declined to comment on claims from fellow guests that the passenger had been filmed on CCTV falling from the ship.

The firm said that it was working to assist guests whose onward travel plans had been affected by the ship's late return to port in Venice.

The cruise line's website says the ship was recently refurbished and travels on round trips to the Caribbean, South America, the Mexican Riviera and the Panama Canal.

It is said to feature '15 delicious dining options, 10 bars and lounges, a sprawling spa, an always-exciting casino with VIP area, plus tonnes of fun for kids of every age'.

Deck seven, where the woman is said to have fallen from, is thought to house a theatre and at least five bars or cafes.