Passengers disembark cruise ship with tales of terrifying conditions

10 months 6 days 59 minutes ago Sunday, March 24 2019 Mar 24, 2019 Sunday, March 24, 2019 10:14:00 AM CDT March 24, 2019 in News
By: Susannah Cullinane, Nicole Chavez and Eliza Mackintosh, CNN

The evacuation of passengers from a cruise ship off the western coast of Norway has come to an end as the vessel sails to port, Viking Ocean Cruises said in a statement.

Rescue teams airlifted 479 people from the vessel after it was stranded in stormy seas Saturday with 1,300 passengers and crew on board. Passengers disembarked with tales of terrifying conditions, with many having been tossed about by wind and waves for 20 hours after the vessel sent a distress signal.

The Viking Sky cruise ship, which regained engine power on Sunday morning, is traveling to Molde harbor accompanied by two supply ships and one tug assist vessel. There are 436 guests and 458 crew still remaining on board.

Twenty people who sustained injuries in the incident were being treated at medical facilities in Norway, or had already been discharged, Viking Ocean Cruises said.

"Throughout all of this, our first priority was for the safety and well-being of our passengers and our crew," Viking Ocean Cruises said in a statement, thanking Norwegian emergency services and local residents for their support.

Rescuers were facing rough seas and waves as high as 6-8 meters (roughly 19-26 feet) as they worked to airlift passengers from the Hustadvika area on the western coast of Norway by helicopter.

The Norwegian Red Cross, which was treating passengers from the ship at an evacuation center in Hustadvika, said that they were seeing injuries including bruising, broken bones and cuts.

A desperate wait for rescue

After being evacuated to shore, American passenger Jan Terbruegen described the scenes on board the Viking Sky to CNN affiliate Dagbladet.

"Furniture would slide across the room, slide back and with it came people and glass. It was a very dangerous situation frankly," Terbruegen said.

He said they had been told to abandon ship quickly -- leaving little time to be scared.

"We were trying to stay lower in the ship towards the center just because it was a recipe for seasickness. And then they called muster stations and within half an hour we figured out that we're getting off here. We could see that we were getting blown in towards some rocks. That was the most frightening thing I think. But luckily that wasn't our destiny."

Fellow passenger Beth Clark described to Dagbladet being airlifted from the vessel.

"The guy came down from the helicopter -- one of the Coast Guards -- snapped my belt and said 'hold it' and shot me up about 100 feet in the air and onto the helicopter," she said.

"I was more terrified of hitting the blades. I didn't look down, so that was my big fear. Everyone had their different fears, that was mine. But they were awesome, I mean as soon as they hoisted you up, he grabbed me and pulled me in like a sack of potatoes."

Passenger Alexus Sheppard from northern California said Saturday she had been waiting almost six hours to be evacuated. Most people were fairly calm, she said, and they were being served food and water.

"It's still rocking and rolling here," Sheppard said.

Another passenger, Ryan Flynn, described the desperate wait for rescue.

"It's about 3:15 a.m. local Norway time and many of us are still stranded on the Vikings Sky," he tweeted. "It's miserable as the seas are still very high with strong winds. The ship continues to pitch and roll. Captain is hoping the winds and seas calm enough to bring ship into port.

Authorities initially sent five helicopters and a number of vessels to evacuate the passengers. They were forced to divert some resources when a nearby freight vessel lost engine power, putting that ship's crew in danger, rescue center officials said.

Norwegian police said that evacuees were being processed onshore at the Brynhallen indoor sports stadium.

Passengers were then being taken to hotels in Molde and Kristiansund, where evacuee centers had been established, they said.

The Norwegian Red Cross said it was assisting.

Loss of engine power

In a statement on its website, Viking Ocean Cruises said the ship "experienced a loss of engine power off the coast of Norway near Molde" about 2 p.m. local time Saturday.

"Our first priority was for the safety and wellbeing of our passengers and our crew, and in close cooperation with the Norwegian Coast Guard, the captain decided to evacuate all guests from the vessel by helicopter," it said.

The Viking Sky ship, owned by Viking Ocean Cruises, was built in 2017 and can hold 930 guests, according to the company's website.

The vessel was on its way to Stavanger from Tromso, according to the website Marine Traffic. Viking said it had canceled its next sailing -- Scandinavia and the Kiel Canal -- which had been scheduled to depart March 27.

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