Viking Sky cruise ship evacuation: Hundreds airlifted to safety

A cruise ship stranded off Norway’s western coast airlifted more than half its 900 passengers to safety before authorities opted Sunday to allow the ship to limp into a nearby port with the aid of a tow boat.

The effort was continuing later Sunday. Viking Sky issued a mayday call Saturday after engine troubles and a harrowing encounter with rough waters and high winds off Norway’s western coast.

Carolyn Savikas, from Pennsylvania, described the terror to Norway’s VG newspaper, saying she heard a “terrible crash” and the ship rocked. Water raced in and things around her were smashed.

“We were in the restaurant when a really huge wave came and shattered a door and flooded the entire restaurant,” she said. “All I saw were bones, arms, water and tables. It was like the Titanic – just like the pictures you have seen from the Titanic.”

Authorities said the weather and sea conditions prevented rescue workers from using lifeboats or other vessels to evacuate the ship. Five helicopters were used to shuttle the passengers to shore.

More: Cruise ship off Norway issues mayday, begins evacuating

The ship’s owner, Viking Ocean Cruises, said 20 people were injured, although some had been quickly treated and released.

Some of the 479 passengers who were airlifted to shore were scheduled to begin flying home Sunday, the company said. Another 436 passengers and the crew of 458 remained aboard while the ship headed toward port.

“Today was some of the worst (conditions) I have been involved with, but now it looks like it’s going well and in the end we have been lucky,” company Chairman Torstein Hagen told Norway’s NRK television.

Norwegian media reported gusts up to 43 mph and waves over 26 feet. Passengers took to social media to share their experiences and the activity onboard as the rescue unfolded

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.

More: ‘Extreme gust of wind’ causes cruise ship to list, injuring passengers

David Hernandez posted a video showing water running under passengers’ feet.

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 begin. But by Sunday the ship had three of four engines operating, the company said.

The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered to Viking Ocean Cruises in 2017. The ship was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to cruisemapper.com.

The ship was scheduled to arrive Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames.

“The last 24 hours have been very, very scary, very frightening,” an American passenger, Rodney Horgen, told NRK. “The best word I suppose is surreal.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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