Europe

'I started to pray': Passengers recall Norwegian Viking Sky cruise from hell

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A luxury cruise ship that had set sail with almost 1400 passengers and crew aboard has arrived safely at a port in Norway, after narrowly escaping disaster when its engines failed during a storm.

It's a holiday passengers will never forget - but for all the wrong reasons. 

A cruise liner that ran into trouble in stormy seas off Norway reached port late Sunday afternoon, after hundreds of passengers were winched to safety by helicopter in a spectacular rescue operation.

Escorted by tugboats, the Viking Sky arrived in the port of Molde in Norway after losing power and drifting two kilometres off a stretch of Norwegian coastline notorious for shipwrecks.

A view of the Norwegian cargo vessel Hagland Captain in trouble with it's engine, and the crew rescued by helicopter off the west coast of Norway.
A view of the Norwegian cargo vessel Hagland Captain in trouble with it's engine, and the crew rescued by helicopter off the west coast of Norway.
NTB SCANPIX

The captain sent out a Mayday, prompting authorities to launch the airlift in difficult conditions rather than run the risk of leaving people on board.

Around the world, family members of passengers struggled to make contact with loved ones. 

About 460 of the 1373 people on the ship had been taken off by five helicopters before the airlift was halted.

Passenger Rodney Horgan said he had been reminded of the Titanic.

"The best word, I guess, is surreal," he said.

"Sea water six-seven feet (about two metres) high just came rushing in, hit the tables, chairs, broken glass and 20-30 people just... went right in front of me.

"I was standing, my wife was sitting in front of me and all of a sudden, she was gone. And I thought this was the end."

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Norway ship: rescue operation to rescue 1300 passengers
Norway ship: rescue operation to rescue 1300 passengers

"I have never seen anything so frightening," passenger Janet Jacob said.

"I started to pray. I prayed for the safety of everyone on board.

"The helicopter trip was terrifying. The winds were like a tornado".  

This photo provided by Alexus Sheppard shows passengers on board the Viking Sky, waiting to be evacuated, off the coast of Norway.
This photo provided by Alexus Sheppard shows passengers on board the Viking Sky, waiting to be evacuated, off the coast of Norway.
Alexus Sheppard

Dramatic footage of the passengers' ordeal showed furniture and plants sliding around the lurching vessel as parts of the ceiling came down.

Dozens of passengers wearing life jackets were seen seated waiting to get off the ship.

Police said 17 people had been taken to hospital. One person, aged in their 90s, and two 70-year-olds suffered serious fractures. 

With three of four engines restarted Sunday, two tugs towed the vessel away from dangerous reefs before it set sail for Molde, 500km northwest of Oslo, under its own power.

Passenger Danny Bates and his wife were among the group rescued. 

"[It was] very frightening, we left one on a helicopter on a sling... the two of us together, and it's quite scary," he said. 

Notorious seas 

The ship was sailing south from Tromso to Stavanger when engine trouble struck mid-afternoon on Saturday in an area off More og Romsdal that has claimed many vessels.

"It is dangerous to encounter engine problems in these waters, which hide numerous reefs," said Tor Andre Franck, the head of police operations.

Pasajeros rescatados del crucero Viking Sky, en Hustadvika, Noruega, el sábado 23 de marzo de 2019. El barco turístico con 1.300 pasajeros a bordo tuvo problemas de motor y tuvo que enviar señales de auxilio. (Odd Roar Lange/NTB Scanpix via AP)
A stranded passenger that has been rescued by helicopter from the ship.
NTB Scanpix

A reception centre was set up in a gym on shore for the evacuees, many of whom were elderly and from the United States and Britain.

The area where the ship got into problems, known as Hustadvika, is notoriously difficult to navigate.

The shallow, 10 nautical mile section of coastline is dotted with small islands and reefs.

"Hustadvika is one of the most notorious maritime areas that we have," Odd Roar Lange, a journalist specialising in tourism, told NRK.

Cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at Molde, Norway.
Cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at Molde, Norway.
NTB SCANPIX

In their time, the Vikings hesitated to venture into the Hustadvika, preferring instead to transport their longships by land from one fjord to another.

Operated by the Norwegian firm Viking Ocean Cruises, the Viking Sky was launched in 2017 with a capacity of 930 passengers plus crew. 

In addition to US and British nationals, there were also passengers from 14 other countries on board.

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British Viking Sky passenger says helicopter airlift 'something special'
British Viking Sky passenger says helicopter airlift 'something special'

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