One of the seven Norwegian sailors whose traditional sailing boat became swamped by sea water in gale force winds 50 miles east of Shetland described the coastguard helicopter which came to rescue them as “an angel from the sky”.
The group was sailing from Sandnes in south-west Norway to Lerwick when their 40ft vessel Dragens Vinge (which translates as Dragon’s Wing) was engulfed by a huge wave in 35 to 40 knot winds yesterday afternoon. They took to their liferaft and waited for over an hour for help to arrive.
Shetland Coastguard officers were alerted just after 4pm by their counterparts in Stavanger and at Falmouth that the vessel’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPRIB) had been activated.
The Sumburgh-based rescue helicopter was immediately scrambled and the Lerwick lifeboat was sent to the scene. A mayday signal was also broadcast in the hope that other vessels might come to the boat’s aid.
At around 5.10pm the helicopter located the liferaft close to Dragens Vinge’s last known position. All the men were accounted for and they were taken on board the helicopter and flown to the landing site at Clickimin before being taken on to the Gilbert Bain Hospital.
They were later discharged after receiving treatment for mild hypothermia. Their vessel has not been recovered.
Recovering after a night’s rest at the Shetland Hotel, the ship’s owner, Egil Rossavik, said the incident had come as a surprise, but insisted the crew of the Dragens Vinge had been well prepared for the near-tragedy and that conditions, in the main, were favourable.
“We were coming from Norway. The sailing conditions were good, but when we came close to the coast of Shetland the wind came up a little bit and we reduced the sails three times. The situation was good – sailing conditions were good.
“We were sailing through the waves. Then there were breaking waves. It was just then when one came alongside the boat, and the boat was filled up with water.
“But before we started this trip we had to do a safety course and we had to understand these situations could occur. Everybody knew what to do, and everyone came up in the raft. When we got away from the shipwreck all seven people were there. Then we started trying to get comfortable in the raft.”
The crew, all experienced seamen, were initially concerned the radio signal might not have been received, as there was no response at first.
Mr Rossavik said he fully expected the helicopter to take at least an hour to get to them.
He added they were well protected by the life jackets and survival gear they were all wearing.
“I didn’t feel cold at all,” he said. “We were only sitting in the raft for an hour and 10 minutes so there was no time to start freezing. The water is not so cold this time of year.”
He said he never once felt his life was in danger. “We were listening and listening. Since I’ve been here several times that I’ve been working in the North Sea, I knew it would take about an hour, but we still didn’t know that the helicopter had got our signal.”
He described his feelings when the rescue helicopter finally arrived at the scene.
“The smile was coming up and I just felt happiness. It was like an angel from the sky. The rescue team was very professional.”
He added the crew were “very well treated” once they had reached hospital.
“We were very well treated, with food and drink and tea – everything. The whole organisation worked very well.”
They were later helped by Shetland’s Norwegian consul John Goodlad who found the men dry clothes and accommodation after they were released from hospital.
Built in 2009, the Dragens Vinge was made using methods devised in the 13th century.
Weighing 1.8 tonnes, and using square sails, the ship – which was made out of 30 fir trees – was used to help mariners improve their seafaring skills.
The boat was travelling to Shetland in order to build up the crew’s experience of using the ship and to test a new sail.
The organisation behind it is attempting to make the world’s largest replica Viking ship.
Coastguard watch officer Mike Smith said: “The only information we were in receipt of was that and EPIRB alert had been transmitted, we tasked resources to the scene and the crew of the rescue helicopter located a raft with seven crew aboard, they have all now been transferred to the rescue helicopter and are being taken to Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.
“We would like to remind the public how important it is to be prepared before you set out to sea, and if travelling offshore to always carry Digital Selective Calling (DSC), Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), flares and life jackets. Always ensure your details are kept up to date with the EPIRB Registry at Falmouth.”