Brockenhurst couple airlifted to safety in terrifying cruise ship evacuation

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Derek and Esther in their life jackets moments before they were airlifted to safety from the cruise ship
Derek and Esther Browne in their life jackets moments before they were airlifted to safety

A COUPLE from Brockenhurst have spoken of their frightening experience being airlifted from a cruise liner after its engines failed during a storm off the coast of Norway.

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Retired village GP Dr Derek Browne and his wife Esther were passengers on a 47,800-tonne Viking Cruise ship on Saturday when it suffered a loss of power in a notoriously treacherous stretch of water.

Crew onboard Viking Sky were forced to send out a distress signal after it began drifting inland. The Brownes were among 200 Britons on board, many of them elderly.

Dr Browne told the A&T: “My wife Esther and I went on the cruise to see the Northern Lights in Norway. The night before the incident was very blowy, and the boat was swaying from side to side.

“After lunch the next day we went down for the afternoon film show and the lights suddenly went out and everything went silent. We couldn’t hear the engines and then the alarm sounded followed by calls of mayday over the radio.”

The ship’s lifeboats were unable to function because of the loss of power, and helicopters were dispatched to rescue the stranded passengers because rescuers could not reach them via boat due to rough seas.

One passenger broadcast what was happening via Twitter with a series of terrifying videos filmed on her phone.

Dr Browne added: “The crew gave us life jackets and told us that everyone onboard would have to be evacuated. The boat was rolling and rolling and we saw water coming in from what we thought was a door that had been blown in by the wind.

“We had to climb seven floors to get up to the deck, where we were evacuated by helicopter. We got squashed together and winched up to safety, which caused Esther to suffer from some light bruising around her ribs.

“I’d never been in a helicopter before – it was a quite frightening experience.”

Continuing, Dr Browne said: “Once we got to shore there were hundreds of Red Cross representatives who were called to provide aid to what could have been a major catastrophe.”

In cooperation with the Norwegian Coastguard, a total of 479 of its 1,373 passengers and crew were airlifted from the vessel and taken to shore.

Passengers remaining on the vessel were evacuated once power was restored to three of the four engines and it was able to dock safely with the assistance of tug boats.

“I have to say that the crew were brilliant, and the ship’s captain kept us informed,” added Dr Browne. “Thanks also goes to the coastguards and rescue teams – we were very fortunate to return relatively unharmed.”

The couple are now safely back home.

A Viking Cruises spokesperson said: “We can confirm that on 23rd March at 2pm (Norwegian time) the vessel Viking Sky, carrying 915 guests and 458 crew, experienced a loss of engine power off the coast of Norway near Molde.

“Our first priority was for the safety and wellbeing of our passengers and our crew. The evacuation was proceeded with all necessary caution. A small number of non-life-threatening injuries have been reported.”

“We would like to thank the Norwegian Redningssentral [search and rescue] 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.”

Founder and chairman of Viking Cruises, Torstein Hagen, said: “The past few days have been stressful and hectic for both guests and crew alike. I would like to personally apologise for what our guests experienced.

“I would also like to say how impressed and grateful I am for the efforts of the national rescue services, rescue personnel, local authorities and the people along the Molde coast, and thank them for the concern and generosity they have shown our guests.

“I would also like to express my thanks to the crew on board the Viking Sky for their efforts and dedication.”

When asked if the couple would go on another cruise after their terrifying ordeal, Dr Browne said: “Yes I would go on another Viking Cruise and I would also take another trip on the Viking Sky. It was a fantastic vessel that is only two years old.”

Guests who were evacuated received accommodation in local hotels upon arrival to the shore, and Viking arranged return flights for all guests and issued a formal apology with a full refund.