Through the large picture windows lining the Viking Sky, passengers on Saturday afternoon watched the gray waves churn and the horizon teeter as their massive ship, carrying 1,373 people, became overwhelmed by the sea.
Outside, a storm in the rough, frigid waters off Norway’s western coast had surrounded the Britain-bound cruise ship with 26-foot waves and 43-mph wind gusts.
Inside, the ship’s engines had failed — setting the vessel adrift in Hustadvika Bay and toward the rocky shoreline. Plants, a piano and lounge furniture slid across the floor with each tilt of the ship. Ceiling panels fell to the ground, and icy water crashed through broken windows.
“It was frightening at first,” said passenger Alexus Sheppard, who posted videos online from inside. “And when the general alarm sounded, it became VERY real.”
The crew threw down an anchor and issued a mayday call. Then the wait began.
For 24 hours, those aboard — a mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens — endured violent conditions as rescue teams worked to evacuate passengers one by one. Smaller rescue boats weren’t a safe option because of the dangerously high swells, so Norwegian authorities airlifted individual passengers from the ship.
Reuters reported that police chief Hans Vik, who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Center of Southern Norway, told TV2 that the ship drifted within 330 feet of shore before the crew was able to restart one engine. “If they had run aground we would have faced a major disaster,” Vik told TV2.
Passenger Rodney Horgen, a Minnesota resident, told The Associated Press he was a weathered fisherman and had never experienced anything like the conditions aboard the Viking Sky.
Horgen said a 6-foot wall of water broke through a door and windows and swept fellow passengers, including his wife, Judie Lemieux, 30 feet across the floor.
The cruise was scheduled to pass through Norwegian towns and cities before docking on the River Thames on Tuesday.
Passenger Janet Jacob told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that she was among the first groups of passengers to be evacuated by helicopter. The strong winds were “like a tornado,” she said.
The Norwegian Red Cross told Reuters that even those who weren’t physically harmed have been “traumatized by the experience” and required care on shore.
By 10 a.m. Sunday, three of the ship’s four engines were working and the ship, carrying 436 guests and 458 crew members, was on its way to dry land, Viking Ocean Cruises said in a statement. In all, 479 passengers had been airlifted, and 20 people suffered injuries and were being treated at hospitals in Norway. Sunday afternoon, the ship docked in Molde, Norway.