Terror at sea: Helicopter rescues frightened cruise passengers in Norway

The Viking Sky cruise ship was carrying 1,300 passengers and crew when it experienced engine trouble

This photo provided by Alexus Sheppard shows passengers on board the Viking Sky, waiting to be evacuated, off the coast of Norway on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Rescue workers off Norway’s western coast rushed to evacuate 1,300 passengers and crew from a disabled cruise ship by helicopter on Saturday, winching them one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds battered the operation. (Alexus Sheppard via AP)

Rodney Horgen recalled the moment he thought he was facing the end: when a huge wave crashed through the Viking Sky cruise ship’s glass doors and swept his wife 30 feet across the floor.

Horgen, 62, of Minnesota, was visiting Norway on a dream pilgrimage to his ancestral homeland when the luxury cruise quickly turned into a nightmare.

The Viking Sky was carrying 1,373 passengers and crew, going from Norway’s Arctic north to the southern city of Stavanger when it had engine trouble along Norway’s rough, frigid western coast. Struggling in heavy seas to avoid being dashed on the rocky coast, the ship issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon.

Horgan said he knew something was badly amiss when the guests on the heaving ship were summoned to the vessel’s muster points.

READ MORE: 1,300 cruise ship passengers rescued by helicopter amid storm off Norway’s coast

“When the windows and door flew open and the 2 metres (6 feet) of water swept people and tables 20 to 30 feet that was the breaker. I said to myself, ‘This is it,’” Horgen told The Associated Press. “I grabbed my wife but I couldn’t hold on. And she was thrown across the room. And then she got thrown back again by the wave coming back.”

Photos posted on social media showed the ship listing from side to side and furniture smashing violently into the ship’s walls. The hands and faces of fellow passengers were cut and bleeding from the shattered glass, he said.

An experienced fisherman, Horgen said he had never before encountered such rough boating conditions.

“I did not have a lot of hope. I knew how cold that water was and where we were and the waves and everything. You would not last very long,” he said. “That was very, very frightening.”

And yet, the scariest part was yet to come.

That was when hundreds of passengers, including Horgen, were winched off the heaving ship by helicopter, one-by-one as winds howled around them in the dark of night, by rescue workers trying to evacuate everyone on board.

Waves up to 26-feet- (8-meters-) high were smacking into the ship, making it impossible to evacuate anyone by boat.

The ship was within 100 metres (300 feet) of striking rocks under the water and 900 metres (2,950 feet) from shore when it stopped and anchored in Hustadvika Bay so passengers could be evacuated, Coast Guard official Emil Heggelund told Norway’s VG newspaper.

Norway’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center stepped in, sending in five helicopters. Passenger Alexus Sheppard told the AP that people with injuries or disabilities were winched off the cruise ship first.

“It was frightening at first. And when the general alarm sounded it became VERY real,” she wrote in a text.

Janet Jacob, among the first group of passengers evacuated to the nearby town of Molde, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the winds felt “like a tornado” and prompted her to start praying for everyone on the ship.

“I was afraid. I’ve never experienced anything so scary,” she said.

“We saw two people taken off by stretcher,” passenger Dereck Brown told Norwegian newspaper Romsdal Budstikke. “People were alarmed. Many were frightened but they were calm.”

Viking Ocean Cruises, the company that owns and operates the ship, said 20 people were injured and received treatment at medical centres.

The airlift evacuation went all through the night and into Sunday morning, slowing for a bit when two of the five rescue helicopters had to be diverted to save nine crewmembers from a nearby ailing cargo ship.

In all, 479 passengers were airlifted to land, leaving 436 passengers and 458 crew members onboard, the company said, when the Viking Sky’s captain decided on a new plan.

Einar Knudsen of Norway’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center said the airlift was halted when the captain decided before noon Sunday to try to bring the cruise ship to the nearby port of Molde on its own engines.

“The conditions were good enough for the captain to have no more evacuations,” Knudsen told the AP.

Three of the ship’s four engines were working so a tug boat and two other vessels assisted the Viking Sky as it slowly headed to Molde under its own power. It finally docked at the port late Sunday afternoon, the cruise company said.

The Viking Oceans Cruise company said the ship’s next scheduled trip, to Scandinavia and Germany that was to leave on Wednesday, was cancelled. Norway’s Accident Investigations Board said the ship would remain in Molde, pending an investigation.

The Viking Sky was a relatively new ship, delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.

It had departed for a 12-day cruise from the southern Norwegian city of Bergen, visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso and Bodo before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames. The passengers were mostly an English-speaking mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.

Viking Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen praised the rescue operation by Norwegian authorities and the actions of the vessel’s crew.

He told the VG newspaper that the events surrounding the Viking Sky were “some of the worst I have been involved in, but now it looks like it’s going well in the end and that we’ve been lucky.”

Shipping tycoon Hagen is one of Norway’s richest men and the founder of the Switzerland-based Viking Cruises that operates river and ocean cruises.

“I’m very proud of our crew,” Hagen told VG.

When asked why the cruise ship ventured into an area known for its rough waters in the middle of a storm that had been forecast by meteorologists, Knudsen, from Norway’s rescue service, said it was the captain’s decision to proceed with the cruise.

Mark Lewis And Jari Tanner, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

This photo provided by Alexus Sheppard shows passengers on board the Viking Sky, waiting to be evacuated, off the coast of Norway on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Rescue workers off Norway’s western coast rushed to evacuate 1,300 passengers and crew from a disabled cruise ship by helicopter on Saturday, winching them one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds battered the operation. (Alexus Sheppard via AP)

Passengers are helped from a rescue helicopter in Fraena, Norway, Sunday March 24, 2019, after being rescued from the Viking Sky cruise ship. Rescue workers are evacuating more passengers from a cruise ship that had engine problems in bad weather off Norway’s western coast while authorities prepare to tow the vessel to a nearby port. (Svein Ove Ekornesvag/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Just Posted

In record numbers, Central Okanagan parents were turning to remote learning for their kids this school year. (File photo)
COVID-19 fuels Central Okanagan remote learning expansion

Enrolment for K-9 in eSchool program climbs from 40-50 to 700

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

(DiStefano Jaud Architecture)
Kelowna city staff wave down proposed Byrns Road development

Developer proposes gas station, car wash, liquor store, commercial buildings, in agricultural area

Elijah Beauregard, 16, was stabbed in downtown Kelowna on June 27, 2019. He died of his wounds three days later in hospital. His family is raising money to put a memorial bench at his favourite skatepark in Penticton.
Family of teen stabbed to death in Kelowna close to getting Christmas wish

A memorial bench in Penticton for Elijah Beauregard is close to meeting its funding goal

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

Several police vehicles were seen at the Sagmoen farm on Salmon River Road in Silver Creek on Thursday night, Oct. 29, 2020. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
UPDATE: One person arrested, released following police presence at Sagmoen farm

RCMP were at Silver Creek property where remains of Vernon woman were found in 2017

Vernon Council voted in favour of implementing a 500-metre buffer between all new cannabis stores in the city at its meeting Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Black Press files)
New cannabis shops in Vernon will need to stay 500m apart

The distancing rule won’t apply to existing stores, including the six currently in downtown core

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Little Seedlings Daycare in Armstrong, located beside Highland Park Elementary School (pictured above). Interior Health confirmed the positive case was present at the daycare on Oct. 22 and 23, 2020. (Google image)
COVID-19 case reported at Armstrong daycare

IH letter says positive case was present at Little Seedlings Daycare Oct. 22 and 23

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A fundraising initiative has been set up to help Mirjana Komljenovic, who has been diagnosed with Hermansky Pudlak Syndome and requires $2,000 a month to cover the costs of her medication. (gofundme.com)
Fundraiser created to help Summerland woman with rare condition

Mirjana Komljenovic requires costly medication to treat Hermansky Pudlak Syndome

Most Read