STAVANGER, Norway—Rescue helicopters took more than 475 passengers from a cruise ship that got stranded off Norway’s western coast in bad weather before the vessel departed for a nearby port under escort and with nearly 900 people still on board, the ship’s owner said on March 24.
The Viking Sky carried 1,373 passengers and crew members when it had engine trouble in an unpredictable area of the Norwegian coast known for rough, frigid waters. The crew issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon.
Five helicopters flying in the pitch dark took passengers from the tossing ship in a painstaking process that continued throughout the night. The rescues took place under difficult conditions that included wind gusts up to 43 mph and waves over 26 feet.
“Currently we understand 20 people suffered injuries as a result of this incident, and they are all receiving care at the relevant medical centers in Norway, with some already having been discharged,” Viking Ocean Cruises, the company that owns and operates the ship, said.
The company said in a statement that before the ship started being towed to the port of Molde, 479 passengers had been airlifted to land by helicopters, leaving 436 passengers and 458 crew members onboard.
“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.”
Passenger Alexus Sheppard told The Associated Press in a message sent from the Viking Sky that people with injuries or disabilities were winched off the cruise ship first. The atmosphere onboard grew calmer after the rescue operation’s first dramatic hours, Sheppard said.
“It was frightening at first. And when the general alarm sounded it became VERY real,” she wrote.
Photos posted on social media showed the ship listing from side to side and furniture smashing violently into walls.
“The last 24 hours have been very, very scary, very frightening,” an American passenger, Rodney Horgen, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. “The best word I suppose is surreal.”
Horgen said he was having lunch at one of the cruise ship’s restaurants when the ship started tipping from one side to another. The motion was strong enough to have “people falling over. Dishes were all over the place,” he said.
Crew members urged passengers to go down to their cabins. While Horgen thought it was only a precaution, he rushed, as ordered, to his designated evacuation point.
Things had remained, he said, “pretty calm” until that point when suddenly one of Viking Sky’s large windows broke “and sea water just came rushing in, hitting past tables, chairs and broken glass” and wiping people off their feet.
“I was standing and my wife was sitting in front of me and all of sudden she was gone. I thought this was it, the water’s going to rush in,” Horgen said. “Things were going through my mind….Titanic….I lot of things go through your brain.”
Police said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay so the evacuations could take place. A tug boat and two other vessels were assisting the Viking Sky travel from the bay to Molde.
Coast guard official Emil Heggelund estimated to newspaper VG that the ship was 328 feet from striking rocks under the water and 2,953 feet from shore when it stopped.
The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames. The passengers mostly were a mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.