One of the largest civilian helicopter rescue operations ever undertaken ended Sunday when the crew of a foundering cruise ship managed to restore power and sail to a nearby port. Before the ship was able to move again, a total of 476 of 1,300 passengers and crew on the Viking Sky were winched to one of five helicopters hovering overhead in rough weather off Norway. The ship’s crew called a Mayday on Saturday after it lost power in heavy seas and high winds off the rocky west coast of Norway. Crews managed to anchor the ship but the 30-foot swells and 40-knot winds prevented a sea rescue. Instead, five large 19-passenger helicopters normally used to service offshore oil platforms hovered over the ship’s top deck and hoisted passengers by winch and cable one by one to relative safety. Early in the rescue, two of the helicopters were diverted to evacuate a nearby cargo ship that was also in trouble.
The initial stages of the cruise ship operation were arduous. It took seven hours to get the first 180 passengers off the ship and it would seem some might have preferred to take their chances on the ship. “It was just chaos,” American passenger John Curry told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. “The helicopter ride from the ship to shore I would rather not think about. It wasn’t nice.” Curry was among the first passengers taken to shore at the nearby town of Molde. About 20 people were hurt in the operation. Meanwhile, back on the ship, the storm was causing the powerless vessel to list violently from side to side. Passengers waiting for rescue donned life preservers and some got wet when waves smashed windows.