Hundreds of passengers survived a harrowing rescue operation after their luxury cruise liner experienced engine failure in stormy waters off the west coast of Norway. Viking Sky, which was carrying 1,373 people on board, sent out a mayday signal Saturday afternoon as it had been drifting toward land in the Norwegian Sea.
Passengers had to be rescued one-by-one from the deck of the vessel and airlifted to a village just north of the nearby town of Molde. The ship finally docked late Sunday morning in the small city on the northeast coast of Norway.
American passenger Rodney Horgen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK he was evacuated off the ship by a helicopter. “It was like an angel just bringing us to safety,” he said.
But Horgen said it was heart-wrenching to see hundreds of others still waiting to be rescued.
“The worst thing I could say for me was walking to get in line for the helicopter,” Horgen told NRK, overcome by emotion. “You had to walk past a lot of people and their faces. That was hard — I did not want to go.”
Stormy conditions in the area persisted Sunday, but with three out of four engines up and running again, the ship was towed toward land and calmer waters.
Norwegian authorities said they had the situation under control and suspended helicopter evacuations earlier in the day.
The U.S. Embassy in Oslo, about 300 miles away, sent a consular team to Molde to help American citizens who were evacuated. Passengers were booked in a handful of hotels in the city and some planned to fly home later on Sunday.
The cruise company said 479 passengers have been taken off the ship — 20 have been taken to hospital with fractures and cuts, but some are also suffering from trauma.
Over 400 passengers remained on board until the end, with a crew of 458.
The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.
Passengers from the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, posted images and videos detailing hours spent aboard the drifting ship on social media. Some showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to 26 feet.
Passengers said many were injured by falling objects and shattered glass as the ship was rocked by the waves.
Anne Decker from Rye, New Hampshire, told reporters Sunday that she and her friend were inside a muster station, an area where passengers are directed to assemble in case of an emergency, when a big wave hit and broke a window, allowing water to rush in.
“I think it pushed open…and my friend and I and a lot of other people were completely underwater for a minute. I mean underwater and we thought that was it,” Decker said, adding that the entire ordeal had been a terrifying experience.
“It was surreal,” Decker’s friend Deborah Kellett, who was with her, said. “It was like what you see in the movies and I honestly thought when we went under water, we were going to be dragged off the boat when the waves went through the window.”
The women were still on the ship when they spoke with reporters. “I don’t think any of us are going to feel safe until we get our feet on firm ground,” Kellett said.
Built in 2017, the ship belongs to Viking Ocean Cruises, part of the Viking Cruises group founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen.
“They’ve had a bit of a shocking experience,” Hagen told Norwegian TV2 and other media after meeting passengers.
“Most of our passengers are senior citizens… imagine what it’s like to hang there on that wire. It must be a terrible experience but they seem to have handled it very well,” Hagen said.
The company said passengers are being accommodated in local hotels and their return flights will be arranged.
EARLIER: Disabled cruise ship off Norway evacuating 1,300 passengers, crew
A cruise ship off Norway’s western coast is evacuating 1,300 passengers and crew Saturday after engine problems forced the ship to send a mayday call.
Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky’s evacuation was likely to be a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters one by one, according. By 6 p.m. local time, some 100 people had been rescued.
Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using life boats or other vessels in taking passengers ashore.
“It’s a demanding exercise, because they (passengers) have to hang in the air under a helicopter and there’s a very, very strong wind,” witness Odd Roar Lange told NRK at the site.
Norwegian media reported gusts up to 43 mph and waves over 26 feet. The area is known for its rough, frigid waters.
Passengers have taken to social media to share what they’re witnessing onboard as they wait to be rescued.
Alexus Sheppard posted a video on Twitter of severe tilting due to the rough waters. “We’re waiting for evacuation by helicopter,” she wrote with the hashtags #VikingSky and #Mayday.
— Alexus Sheppard 🏳️🌈 (@alexus309) March 23, 2019
We’re waiting for evacuation by helicopter #VikingSky#Maydaypic.twitter.com/rqSYaWGi0k— Alexus Sheppard 🏳️🌈 (@alexus309) March 23, 2019
David Hernandez posted a video showing the ship has taken in some water with it running under passengers’ feet.
#vikingsky emergency pic.twitter.com/9bxdRpB2zV— David Hernandez (@oxman78) March 23, 2019
— David Hernandez (@oxman78) March 23, 2019
The Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as bad weather hit Norway’s coastal regions. Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the ship managed to anchor in Hustadsvika Bay, between the western Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place.
CRUISE SHIP CHAOS: Furniture slides from side-to-side on a Norwegian cruise ship experiencing engine failure amid severe winds and choppy water. Rescue helicopters had to airlift more than 1,300 people from the distressed ship. https://t.co/vU7r8gwktS pic.twitter.com/UNdpuJ49aS
— ABC News (@ABC) March 24, 2019
The Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to cruisemapper.
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 Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.
Viking Ocean Cruises, which operates Viking Sky, has not returned calls for comment.