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Terror at sea: Helicopter rescues frighten cruise passengers

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Norway cruise ship guests recall tipping, terror of water

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 Sunday.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 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 metres (26 feet) high.Photos posted on social media showed the ship listing from side to side and furniture smashing violently into walls."We understand 20 people suffered injuries as a result of this incident, and they are all receiving care at the relevant medical centres 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 departed for the port of Molde nearly a day after it became disabled, 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."It was frightening at first. And when the general alarm sounded it became VERY real," she wrote.An American passenger, Rodney Horgen of Minnesota, was visiting Norway as a dream pilgrimage to his ancestral homeland when the trip quickly turned into a nightmare.Horgen, 62, said he knew something was badly amiss when the guests on the tossing cruise liner were all brought to the ship's muster point. He felt sure the end had come when a huge wave crashed through glass doors and swept his wife, Judie Lemieux, 30 feet across the floor."When the windows and door flew open and the 2 metres of water swept people and tables 20 to 30 feet, that was the breaker. I said to myself, 'This is it,'" Horgen recalled. "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.Hands and faces of fellow passengers were cut and bleeding from shattered glass, he said. An experienced fisherman, Horgen said he had never experienced 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. That was very, very frightening."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 100 metres (328 feet) from striking rocks under the water and 900 metres (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.The airlifts continued at a steady pace Sunday morning, as the vessel was being prepared for towing by two tugboats to the nearby town of Molde, according to Per Fjerd at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center.The helicopters stopped taking people off the ship when the ship was ready for the trip to shore. Three of the ship's four engines were working as of Sunday morning, the centre said.Norway news agency NTB reported Sunday afternoon the Viking Sky was travelling under its own power at a speed of 7 knots and not being towed. It was expected to arrive around 6 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) at the earliest .The Viking Sky, a vessel with a gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.Viking Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen praised the rescue operation by Norwegian authorities and the actions of the vessel's crew.He told Norway's 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 under two business units."I'm very proud of our crew," Hagen told VG.____Jari Tanner reported from Helsinki, Finland.Mark Lewis And Jari Tanner, The Associated Press

STAVANGER, Norway — 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.

"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.

__

Tanner reported from Helsinki, Finland.

Mark Lewis And Jari Tanner, The Associated Press