Norwegian authorities are investigating why the Viking Sky cruise ship sailed despite a weather warning, leading to engine failure, a mayday call and air evacuations.
A Viking Sky cruise ship needed 1,373 passengers and crew on board to be evacuated last weekend − and those involved in the rescue mission hadn’t experienced a rescue this intense before.
Rune Jansen a crewman from helicopter service CHC in Norway, spent 10 hours on the deck of the Viking Sky hoisting up passengers into a helicopter. The ship had sent out a mayday distress signal amid hazardous weather conditions and engine failure. Norwegian media reported gusts up to 43 mph and waves over 26 feet.
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The Viking Sky anchored in heavy seas to keep the ship from being dashed on rocks.
“The ship in trouble was close to a rocky shore, so it was critical to get evacuation as smooth and as quick as possible,” Patrick Gerritsen, chief search and rescue pilot for CHC Norway told USA TODAY.
That’s where the CHC came in, when it was called to assist the rescue effort at 2 p.m. local time on March 23. The company’s mission involved 12 pilots, seven rescue swimmers, six hoist operators, two ground support engineers and a system operator.
Its first helicopter arrived within 30 minutes after being called, and a second one later joined to assist.
“The two helicopters worked seamlessly together in a rescue pattern that ensured one aircraft was hoisting passengers at all times,” according to a post on CHC’s website. “During each mission, 15 to 20 passengers were hoisted and subsequently transported to safety.” Two more CHC aircraft were later sent to support the evacuations, and a fifth government-contracted aircraft arrived, as well. A total of 464 passengers were lifted off the cruise ship, per CHC’s latest numbers.
On top of all this, CHC had to simultaneously rescue nine crew members from a nearby cargo ship.
Jansen was brought down from a helicopter and onto the boat to hoist up passengers and stayed there for 10 hours until a colleague could relieve him. He told USA TODAY that some of the passengers were elderly and had difficulty walking; others were only wearing undergarments: “We thought that they should stay inside as long as possible because of the weather and the wind and the waves.”
Jansen said he’s used to training in poor weather conditions but had never experienced a mission of “this magnitude” before.
Jansen praised the Viking Sky crew, calling them calm and helpful and that they “did the best they could.”
One of Jansen’s most memorable moments from the incident was a happy one: He received hugs from many passengers when getting them ready to hoist, and they were grateful the rescue team was there.
The Norwegian Maritime Authority has been working with Viking Ocean Cruises and Lloyd’s, the ship’s classification society, to identify why the cruise ship suffered a power blackout in the first place. The NMA discovered that one of the ship’s engines failed due to low oil levels.
The ship sailed from the northern city of Tromso over the weekend bound for Stavanger in southern Norway when the ship had engine failure, started listing dangerously, then took in water.
The rescue operation ended Sunday when the engines restarted. The ship traveled under its own power to a Norwegian port with nearly 900 passengers and crew members still on board.
“This is what we train for and can execute when we are called upon,” Gerritsen said in the CHC website post.
Contributing: Julia Thompson and The Associated Press.
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