Search-and-rescue crew members describe what it was like during the 18-hour mission to rescue 1,300 cruise passengers during a storm

CHCIn total, six helicopters were used in the mission.
  • On Saturday, the Viking Sky cruise ship made a mayday call off the coast of Norway when it ran into engine trouble during a storm.
  • Patrick Gerritsen, Chief Search and Rescue, and crewman Rune Jansen told INSIDER of their experience during the 18-hour mission.
  • Gerritsen piloted a helicopter, ferrying passengers to safety.
  • Jansen was on the ship’s deck, where he helped passengers who were in a range of conditions prepare for rescue.
  • Passenger accounts of the boat on Saturday include 40-foot waves, listing (or the ship tilting), and general chaos.

On Saturday afternoon, the Viking Sky cruise ship had to make a mayday call. The ship’s engines were having trouble, a storm was brewing, and the boat, which was carrying 1,300 people, was heading straight for Norway’s notoriously rocky coast.

Within 30 minutes of that call, rescuers were on the scene, having flown in by helicopter. This was because of the communication between the Search and Rescue (SAR) and CHC Norway helicopter teams, SAR lead pilot Patrick Gerritsen told INSIDER.

“The conditions were very close to the rocky shore,” Gerritsen said. “The situation was very urgent.”

CHCA helicopter prepares to land.

Gerritsen said that in total six helicopter crews were deployed for the mission. The first crew was called in around 2:10 p.m. local time, and throughout the night teams worked together to establish a rhythm of continuously ferrying passengers from the boat to safety on land about 15 minutes away, the pilot said.

In total, the rescue operation took about 18 hours.

While Gerritsen was among those working to bring passengers to safety from the operations center, some were stationed on the boat itself to help passengers prepare to be airlifted. One of those people was crewman Rune Jansen.

CHCThe waves caused the boat to list, or tilt.

The crewman said that at first things on the deck were calm and orderly, but everyone reacted differently to the situation as the day turned into night.

“I was helping get the passengers in position for hoisting,” Jansen said. “They were afraid. Someone cried. They had little clothes on, some were only wearing underwear. Some had faeces. Some were injured and we had to hoist them in stretchers because of broken legs and other things.”

Safety and accommodations were integral to the mission. Many of the passengers were elderly, Jansen said. In certain cases, he accompanied guests who needed assistance into the helicopter to ensure total safety.

“It was very important to have a safe operation,” he told INSIDER. “We were able to do that with two rescue men on the boat. “

Read more: Passengers who were aboard the chaotic, storm-tossed Viking cruise ship will be issued a refund

Ultimately, the crew rescued 470 people, including 17 who were wounded. All the while, 30-foot high waves continued to toss the ship and 51 miles per hour wind was a constant threat.

CHCThe conditions were tough.

And in the midst of this, the Search and Rescue crew got another call: A cargo ship was in need of help – it had run into engine trouble and was also headed for the rocky coast, Gerritsen said. The rescuers sprung into action to help the nine-person crew on that ship.

Although it’s abnormal for two these situations to happen simultaneously, Gerritsen said the SAR crews were prepared. He said the two rescues were “seamless.”

“This kind of operation is what we train for year-round. It’s what we are used to. We are used to these conditions – or even worse,” Gerritsen said “For us, this is what we do and this is what we feel comfortable with. But at the same time we do, of course, understand that for the passenger on the cruise ship who is just on vacation it’s a traumatic experience.”

UPDATE: March 28, 2019: This post was updated to reflect that the rescue mission took 18 hours and that Patrick Gerritsen was stationed in the operations center.

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