My Facebook friend Bill Minter was on the Viking Sky during the recent “disaster.” I asked Bill if I could share his experience that he posted on his wall in my blog, and he gave me permission.
“Several of you have asked us to share the details of our recent adventure with the Viking Sky Cruise Ship Disaster, so I’ll try to do so while it is still fresh on my mind. We went on the “In Search of the Northern Lights” cruise with our friends Kevin Snow (who provided some of the details for this blog), Susan Snow, Maureen Pimley, and Sabrina Pimley.
On March 23, the ship started rocking and rolling with winds reported to be gusting up to 43 mph and waves reported as high as 60 feet. Susan and I were having a late lunch on Deck 7 with the Snows when a tub of dirty dishes went crashing to the floor in the buffet dining room — our first indication that things were getting worse.
We moved to Deck 2 and were playing cards at a game table (which was bolted to the floor – turned out to be very important) when the ship rolled and a computer monitor on the Future Cruise desk by us crashed to the floor along with some furniture. Next, we heard a tremendous crash–which we assumed was bar glasses from the deck below us hitting the floor. The power went out except for emergency lighting, and the ship turned sideways in the waves.
The Chief Operations Officer later told Kevin Snow that the four propellers had come out of the water and started to speed up causing all four engines to trip off. Later I was told that the Captain was only using three engines with one held in reserve, but–in any case–we had no engines and were adrift at that point. That’s when a wave hit us sideways and the ship rolled more than 40 degrees, according to the COO. Susan Snow, who had back surgery about 10 weeks ago, was sitting in a chair which slid sideways towards the wall and hit hard. She screamed for us to help. Kevin, Susan Minter, and I were still holding onto the table; and Kevin and I rushed over to grab Susan and pull her up. Falling sideways out of that chair and damaging her back was her biggest fear.
There were screams, even more glass shattering, and general bedlam. An officer came running by and told us to go to our rooms. Before we could move, the captain called out a mayday; and the emergency evacuation alarm was sounded. The captain said (over the PA), “This is not a drill; this is not a drill” and ordered everyone to their muster assembly stations. Our assembly station was in the front of the ship in the theater (on the same floor where we were). The other assembly station was aft in the restaurants. Turns out we lucked out.
Viking doesn’t keep life vests in the staterooms–they hand them out at the assembly station. Those who were in their staterooms came down dressed in coats, hats, etc. The rest of us were dressed in light clothing. The crew began handing out life vests in the theater from large orange collapsible bags. All the seats and benches were filled, and some people had to sit on the floor. Several of the drink tables kept falling over and rolling into people. During the move from card-playing area, we got separated from the Snows who ended up in the back of theater with movie theater style seating.
During all this, at least one large wave slapped the side of the ship and knocked in one of the windows in the restaurant, which is lined with windows. Very cold North Sea water came blasting into that assembly station, soaking scores of people and injuring several. People were knocked over and found themselves in two feet of sea water in a tangle of arms and legs. It took a few minutes before they could get untangled and stand up, especially as many were retired and many used canes and walkers, and a few were in wheelchairs.
A large number of these passengers were moved forward to our assembly station, and the rest were moved to the middle of the ship called the Atrium. Some people were in shock – literally – frozen, cold and wet. A number of passengers with medical and emergency response experience sprang into action and started assisting these people. Announcements were made, asking for anyone with extra dry clothes and coats to donate them for those who were wet. Some passengers had to be undressed and put into dry clothes, wrapped in blankets, and given hand warmers with instructions to place the hand warmers in their groin between their underwear and outer clothing. Otherwise they would continue to lose body heat. The crew eventually got one engine running and dropped the anchors to get us so we could face into the waves. Until then, the ship was rolling pretty badly and was within 330 feet of a rocky coast in an area called Hustadvika – a stretch known as one of the most dangerous in Norway. Because we had no windows, we had no idea how close we were to the rocks.
The cruise director and the captain kept us informed by PA as tugboats and rescue helicopters were called for help. When the captain announced for the crew to close the water-tight doors, we knew things were really getting serious. By this time, they were starting to evacuate people by helicopter. We were not allowed to leave the theater except to use the bathroom, which was literally flowing with water in each direction as the ship rolled since the vacuum system was not working. Because Susan needed pain medicine for her foot, I convinced a crew member to escort me to our stateroom for the medicine and our heavy jackets to use during evacuation. He also let me to put our cell phones, passports, and valuables from the safe in my backpack. By then, rescue helicopters were airlifting people off of Deck 8 (in 40 foot seas and 40 mph winds!
They were taking up groups of 16 passengers, one or two at a time in slings, up to the helicopter. Because of Susan’s broken foot, she and I were among the first 100 people airlifted out. We were escorted to Deck 8 at around 8:30 PM and prepared to be lifted by cable to the helicopter in the dark with sleet and high winds. Susan decided that I should go first as she was pretty freaked out. When I got ready to go out on deck, I was told I had to leave my backpack on the ship; so we evacuated with no medicine, no passports, no cell phones, and very little money. Being hoisted up by a cable with just a sling under your arms in these weather conditions was an experience that I only need to have had once.
The helicopter was struggling to stay above the deck because of the wind, but the rescue team was great! These amazing crews lifted over 400 people off the ship over a 12 hour period with no injuries or loss of life. Since I didn’t have my cameras or cell phone, all the photos for a 48-hour period are “borrowed” from the internet. After we were hauled into the helicopter, it was about a 15-minute flight to Hustad, Norway. The only time I was at all queasy during this whole time was waiting in the helicopter for the rest of the people to be pulled up into the helicopter. Upon arrival in Hustad, Susan was put on a stretcher; and we were taken into a gymnasium where there were what looked like hundreds of volunteers from nearby towns. We were asked if we were all right (numerous times) or if we needed anything, were given hot tea, and were loaded onto buses for a 45-minute ride to Molde, Norway.
We were placed in the Scandic Alexandra Molde Hotel, where we were there were more volunteers from the town, as well a doctor and a nurse to arrange to get any medications that we needed. They had gathered toothbrushes and toothpaste; but we had only the clothes we were wearing, no comb or hairbrush, no deodorant, etc. There was plenty of food and drink available to us. Later that night the owner of Viking Cruise Lines and some of his staff came to talk to us and assured us that we would be taken care of. The owner said that we would receive a full refund on our cruise and that he would pay for a future cruise out of his pocket (True to his word, we received a full refund the day after we returned home).
Early on Sunday, March 24, the weather had improved; and we were told that two ocean-going tugs arrived and that three engines on the cruise ship were operational. We were also informed that the helicopter evacuation operation was suspended (about half the passengers were still on the ship; including our friends—Kevin, Susan, Maureen, and Sabrina). Viking arranged to have a mall that was normally closed on Sunday to be opened for us; and we were given a credit card with about $300 each to buy clothes, toiletries, etc, that we needed. People from the town brought donuts, coffee, and water for us while we were there. Susan and I were interviewed by a Norwegian television station, but we never saw the interview on the air. Coverage of the Viking Sky disaster was on continuously on Norwegian television (we couldn’t understand the language, but were watching what was happening).
We saw that the Viking Sky was being moved to the dock right across from our hotel in Molde, so Bill went down to witness the arrival in the afternoon. The local people (along with some of us who had been evacuated by helicopter) were applauding, waving, and cheering as the ship arrived. During the day, we had several meetings about plans to get us home; but nothing was really firm. At about 7 PM we were told that we would be on a charter flight to Oslo, Norway, and that we would be allowed in our stateroom at 8:30 PM for 30 minutes to recover our belongings before boarding a bus for the airport.
Bill was concerned about his backpack with our passports and valuables which he had had to leave on deck 8, but he found it soon after we got back on board in a room with piles of stuff recovered from around the ship. We were pushing hard to get everything packed and moved to the bus by 9:15 PM, but we made it. Unfortunately, our plane that was supposed to leave at 10:30 PM was delayed; and we didn’t leave Molde until after 12:30 AM. We arrived in Oslo an hour later and were taken to a hotel in downtown Oslo – arriving around 2:30 AM. We had to repack our bags, because we had just thrown stuff into them. Then showers, a quick nap for Bill, and back downstairs to go to the airport at 6 AM.
Our flight from Oslo to Amsterdam was delayed because high winds in Amsterdam had shut down 2 of the 3 airport runways. We arrived in Amsterdam after the gate had closed for our connecting flight, so we were given hotel and food vouchers and spent the night in Amsterdam. Finally, on Tuesday, March 26, we boarded a direct flight (9.5 hours) from Amsterdam to Atlanta and arrived at our house at around 4:30 PM. The photos will give you some idea of the ordeal, but you had to be there to enjoy the complete adventure! Throughout this entire process, I can’t say enough about how well the Viking staff and management handled taking care of us! We also owe a debt of gratitude to the Norwegian people in the towns around Hustad and Molde! There were volunteers everywhere we went asking if we were alright and if there was anything they could do to help!”