Stavanger, Norway — Accompanied by tug boats, thehas limped into the Norwegian port of Molde more than a day after issuing a mayday call in a storm that led to harrowing helicopter rescues of half of its passengers. The Viking Sky carried 1,373 passengers and crew when it had engine trouble Saturday afternoon off the western coast of Norway.
Afraid of dashing up on the rocks, it anchored amid heavy seas and high winds and began to evacuate everyone on board.
Amid wind gusts up to 43 mph and waves over 26 feet, five helicopters flying in the pitch dark evacuated passengers from the heaving ship throughout the night into Sunday morning. Over 475 passengers were airlifted one-by-one off the ship. As weather eased, a decision was made to halt the rescues and head to Molde, which it reached about 15:30 GMT (11:30 a.m. EST) Sunday.
Viking Ocean Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen told Norway's VG newspaper that the events surrounding the Viking Sky were "some of the worst I have been involved in, but now it looks like it's going well in the end and that we've been lucky."
The company said in a statement that before the ship started being towed to the port of Molde on Sunday, 479 passengers had been airlifted to land by helicopters, leaving 436 passengers and 458 crew members onboard. Five helicopters flying in the pitch dark evacuated passengers from the tossing ship throughout the night and continued the airlifts at a steady pace into Sunday morning.
Some 17 people were hospitalized with injuries, police said.
According to the cruisemapper.com website, the Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen. 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.