An American couple who were aboard a cruise ship that was violently rocked by massive waves and 50mph wind gusts recalled the terror they experienced as walls of water engulfed the vessel just off the coast of Norway.
Rodney Horgen, 62, and Judy Lemieux, 66, of Deer River, Minnesota were among several hundred passengers rescued from the Viking Sky, a 12-day luxury cruise along the Norwegian coast, on Saturday.
Passengers described conditions as comparable to ‘being on the Titanic’ and feared they would drown as the ship was tossed around the Norwegian Sea.
‘I tried to grab her, but I just couldn’t,’ Horgen told the Star Tribune, recalling when his wife was being swept away by water that had inundated the inside of the seventh-floor restaurant.
He said that the winds were so fierce passengers on board believed that the ship was about to turn on its side.
Rodney Horgen and Judy Lemieux, two retired doctors from Minnesota, were aboard a Norwegian cruise ship that was caught in rough seas on Saturday
Horgen said he and his wife were one of the first who were airlifted to safety
‘The swells were hitting us broadside, just leaning the ship back and forth, almost to the point we thought it was going to tip,’ Horgen said.
‘People were getting tipped over in their chairs.’
Not only were people being tipped over, but tables, utensils, and china were being thrown about, according to Horgen.
Some 20 people were injured before the ship stabilized and rescue forces were called to evacuate the passengers.
Lemieux said that a 6ft-tall wall of water barreled toward her through the window of the restaurant.
The force of the water which came into the restaurant sent her flying.
‘There was a chair coming at me with the legs,’ she recalled, ‘and I thought it was going to take my eyes out. Then Rod grabbed me.’
Horgen and Lemieux were one of the first passengers to be evacuated by helicopter.
The cruise liner was on its eighth day of the 12-day ‘In Search of the Northern Lights’ cruise
Passengers on board the Viking Sky wear life jackets as they wait to be evacuated on Saturday. As many as 1,300 passengers and crew were rescued from the disabled cruise ship by helicopter
Ambulance and red cross staff were ready and waiting on the dockside as the Sky approached
Tug boats and supply ships escorted the stricken craft towards the Norwegian port town
The retired doctors said it was difficult for them to accept being rescued before others.
‘Probably one of the hardest things I had to do was walk through this hallway where people were just waiting there, thinking like “you are the ones who get to get off”,’ said Horgen.
‘That was hard for me and my wife. It brought tears to our eyes.’
The company which operates the ship, Viking Ocean Cruises, paid for the couple’s stay at a hotel in Molde, Norway.
It also covered the costs of the flight back to Minnesota. The couple was also offered a free cruise in the future.
‘There’s a good chance we’ll take the same cruise,’ Horgen said.
‘I’m confident in them.’
His wife was not so sure.
Horrifying photos have emerged which show the scale of the damage inside the vessel
Furniture was thrown around and glass shattered when he engines died and the craft shuddered
One passenger said: ‘We could see that we were getting blown in towards some rocks’
‘I think I need some more time to think about it,’ Lemieux said.
The Horgens were among more than 400 people who had to be airlifted to safety after the cruise ship developed engine trouble in rough seas.
It arrived safely into port on Saturday.
The Viking Sky sent a mayday at 2pm on Saturday and helicopter crews spent hours winching elderly passengers one by one from the deck as rescue ships and tugs went to aid the vessel.
Videos filmed by passengers show the ship rolling to an angle of almost 45 degrees, and water sluicing through communal areas inside the ship.
Today with three of four engines back up and running, the huge ship as come into the Norwegian coastal town of Molde.
Hans Vik, who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway Police, told TV2: ‘It was very nearly a disaster. The ship drifted to within 100 meters of running aground before they were able to restart one of the engines.
‘If they had run aground we would have faced a major disaster.’
American Jan Terbruegn said there was little time for panic after the order came to abandon ship.
He told Norwegian news outlet Dagbladet: ‘We could see that we were getting blown in towards some rocks.
Horgen said his wife, Lemieux, was swept up by sea water that crashed through the windows of the seventh-floor restaurant
‘That was the most frightening thing I think. But luckily that wasn’t our destiny.’
The billionaire owner of the cruise line, Torstein Hagen, told Norwegian TV2 on Sunday: ‘They’ve had a bit of a shocking experience.
‘Most of our passengers are senior citizens… imagine what it’s like to hang there on that wire.
‘It must be a terrible experience but they seem to have handled it very well.’
As many as 200 UK citizens may be among the 436 passengers about to disembark the Viking Sky, along with 458 crew, after the ship lost power in huge swells.
Falling ceiling tiles hit passengers on the head as the struggling cruise ship rolled almost 45 degrees onto its side, tipping to send tables and chairs skimming across the decks.
Twenty people have already been taken to hospital, three with serious injuries, and a 90-year-old man and his 70-year-old spouse were severely injured, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
One frightening video shows water coursing through living quarters, after a door burst open when the ship was hit by a powerful wave, but the vessel is not believed to be sinking or taking on water.
A spokeswoman for Viking Sky said on Sunday: ‘All passengers were moved to muster stations, which are designated safe places on the vessel. They were kept warm and comfortable during this period of time.’
The spokeswoman later told MailOnline the passengers and crew of the vessel are safe and will be transported home this evening.
Roof panels are seen falling and striking passengers heads in the video from on board the ship
A picture from inside the listing cruise ship shows it tipping over to one side
The huge cruise liner rolled dramatically as its engines spluttered in 30ft waves off the coast
They said: ‘At 4:30pm (Norwegian time) on 24 March 2019, the Viking Sky docked in the port of Molde. All passengers and crew are safe, and passengers will be flying home starting tonight.
‘Throughout all of this, our first priority was for the safety and well-being of our passengers and our crew.
‘We would like to thank the Norwegian Redningssentral and the Norwegian emergency services for their support and skill displayed in managing the situation in very challenging weather conditions.
‘We would also like to thank the local residents who throughout the whole process have been extremely supportive and hospitable.
The Viking Sky, initially carrying 900 passengers including 200 Brits, plus its 458-strong crew, was taking holidaymakers on a 12-day luxury cruise along the Norwegian coast.
The crew sent a distress signal at 2pm local time on Saturday, as the ship developed engine trouble in bad weather, finding itself in rough seas in the Hustadvika area on the western coast of Norway facing waves of 19-26ft.
After a decision to evacuate, five coast guard helicopter crews worked tirelessly yesterday, winching people one at a time from the deck of the stricken vessel and flying them fifteen at a time back to the shore.