Cruise ship stranded off Norway’s coast reaches port after harrowing helicopter rescues

A cruise ship reached the Norwegian port of Molde on Sunday a day after the crew issued a mayday call that led to hundreds of passengers being airlifted to safety.

The Viking Sky limped into the port on Sunday accompanied by tug boats after the harrowing ordeal that sent furniture in the vessel smashing into walls, glass flying, pieces of the ceiling crashing down as passengers and crewmembers held on while the ship rocked side to side.

The ship was carrying 1,373 passengers and crew members when it had engine trouble in an unpredictable area of Norway’s western coast known for rough, frigid waters. The crew issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon.

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Rescuers couldn’t use lifeboats or other vessels to evacuate the passengers due to the conditions that included wind gusts at 43 mph and waves reaching over 26 feet high. Five helicopters were deployed and worked through the night to take passengers from the vessel to land. Helicopters were stopped removing passengers by Sunday morning when the ship was ready to sail to the shore.

Passengers on board the Viking Sky, were waiting to be evacuated after the vessel encountered bad conditions off the coast of Norway on Saturday.

Passengers on board the Viking Sky, were waiting to be evacuated after the vessel encountered bad conditions off the coast of Norway on Saturday. (AP)

Viking Ocean Cruises, the company that owns and operates the ship, said 479 passengers were airlifted to land, leaving 436 passengers and 458 crew members onboard by the time the ship made its journey to the port.

"We understand 20 people suffered injuries as a result of this incident, and they are all receiving care at the relevant medical centers in Norway, with some already having been discharged," the company said.

Passengers said they suffered cuts on their hands and faces from flying glass. Rodney Horgen, a Minnesota native who was on the cruise, recalled to The Associated Press how his wife was “thrown across the room.”

Passengers are helped from a rescue helicopter in Fraena, Norway, Sunday.

Passengers are helped from a rescue helicopter in Fraena, Norway, Sunday. (AP)

"When the windows and door flew open and the 2 meters of water swept people and tables 20 to 30 feet, that was the breaker. I said to myself, 'This is it,'" Horgen said. "I grabbed my wife but I couldn't hold on. And she was thrown across the room. And then she got thrown back again by the wave coming back.

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"I did not have a lot of hope. I knew how cold that water was and where we were and the waves and everything. You would not last very long. That was very, very frightening,” he added.

Carolyn Savikas, from Pennsylvania, recalled a “really huge wave” crashing into the cruise ship’s restaurant and shattering a door.

"We were in the restaurant when a really huge wave came and shattered a door and flooded the entire restaurant," Savikas told Norwegian publication VG newspaper. "All I saw were bones, arms, water and tables. It was like the Titanic – just like the pictures you have seen from the Titanic."

The cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at port off Molde, Norway on Sunday.

The cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at port off Molde, Norway on Sunday. (AP)

Viking Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen praised Norwegian authorities and the ship’s crew for the rescue operation.

"I'm very proud of our crew," Hagen told VG.

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The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames. The passengers mostly were a mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.