Tooele City residents Dennis and Rosemary Hullinger returned safely to Tooele on Tuesday night.
The couple had booked a Norwegian cruise to cross off one of the items on their bucket list — see the northern lights.
They saw the northern lights. They also got a free helicopter ride, which wasn’t on their bucket list
The Hullingers were aboard the ill-fated Viking Sky cruise ship that was evacuated Saturday after high winds and loss of engine power caused the ship to be tossed back and forth near rocky shores on the west coast of Norway.
With 1,373 passengers and crew on board, the ship issued a mayday call and started evacuation on Saturday afternoon.
Dennis Hullinger described the trip as “the adventure of a lifetime.”
“We traveled past beautiful mountains and fjords, over the Arctic Circle line to one of the most northern ports in Norway,” he said. “On our second or third night on board, we saw the beautiful green streaks, dancing across the sky.”
The Hullingers took excursions at port stops. They went on a sleigh ride with reindeer and ate reindeer stew with native people.
“We visited a polar park where we interacted with a pack of wolves, petting them and letting them lick our faces,” said Rosemary Hullinger.
But nine days into the trip, with four days remaining, the seas started getting rough.
“The ship was rolling a lot that night,” Rosemary Hullinger said.
They watched as waves shot up like geysers. They heard glasses and dishes breaking.
The water in the indoor pool sloshed from one end to the other. Crew members worked hard to cover the pool with netting, as they tried to drain the water out.
“We saw people sliding around in their chairs and tipping over,” the Hullingers said.
The Hullingers sought refuge from the rocking storm in the common area of deck two.
Spying a deck of cards, the Hullingers thought they would play a game to take their minds off the sound of waves slamming against the hull.
“We had just sat down when glasses, vases, potted plants, and books started flying off of the shelves,” Dennis Hullinger said. “Our chairs started sliding everywhere and there was nothing to hold onto. We watched several people tip over in their chairs.”
The lights went off. It was a few minutes before the emergency generator kicked in and the lights came back on, they said.
Then the emergency signal sounded — seven short blasts followed by one long blast.
“We made our way to the muster station,” Rosemary Hullinger said. “Walking around broken glass and overturned furniture. The captain announced that none of the engines were working and so we would feel the waves more because we were turning sideways.”
The Hullingers went to the theater where crew members handed out life jackets.
“The ship was rocking so bad that it was hard to get the jackets on because we had to stand up to pass a strap between our legs,” Dennis Hullinger said. “The ship would go up in the air and then slam down.”
The Hullingers had been been sitting at the back of the theater for an hour or two, when soaking wet people came walking in.
The people said a huge wave crashed into the windows of the restaurant where they were mustered, shattering two windows and sending a wall of water inside. Some said they were actually underwater, trying to swim to something to hold onto, the Hullingers said.
“There were several people cut by the flying glass pieces,” Rosemary Hullinger said. “The crew members ran to find blankets and towels for them and people took off their sweatshirts to give them.”
The captain announced that helicopters were coming to evacuate the ship.
The evacuation would take all night and all of the next day as only one person at a time could be lifted off, according to the captain’s announcement.
About 8 p.m. on Saturday night, crew members started taking people to their cabins a few at a time, to get any medications they needed.
“Dennis was able to go and get his medicine, our coats, our passports, and a diet coke,” Rosemary Hullinger said. “He was happy.”
At 3:15 a.m. on Sunday, while the Hullingers were laying on the floor of the theater, a crew member came in and told them to put their coats on and follow him. They joined a line of eight people and were taken to the eighth floor where they sat until about 5 a.m.
“We could hear the wind and the helicopter outside each time the door opened,” said Dennis Hullinger. “When it was our turn they took us out and put a sling around us that came up under our arms. They hooked some carabiners on to us, and told us to hold the rope as tight as we could.”
After a couple of minutes, Dennis Hullinger said they we were hoisted up to the helicopter together.
The wind turned Dennis a little so he went in first, he said.
“Rosemary kind of fell in because she couldn’t get her feet into the helicopter,” Dennis Hullinger said.
Rosemary Hullinger said she remembers hoping that they wouldn’t unhook the harness until she had been pulled all the way in.
The helicopter took the Hullingers to a sports arena near Molde, Norway, that was being used as an evacuation center. The trip took about 35 minutes.
“From the moment we touched down, we were surrounded by Red Cross people who had come from all over the adjoining towns,” Rosemary Hullinger said. “Some had driven for eight hours. We were humbled by the compassion and expertise the people of Norway treated us with. As they walked us to the building, they never let go of our hands.”
The Red Cross had phone chargers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and shaving supplies for the men, according to the Hullingers.
“It was wonderful the way they anticipated our needs,” Rosemary Hullinger said.
After getting registered at the sports arena, the Hullingers were taken by bus to a hotel in the town of Kristiansund, about an hour away.
On Monday morning, the owner of Viking cruises, Torstein Hagen, greeted the passengers during a briefing.
He told them that tug boats had been able to connect to the ship and help it get to a port in Molde. About 450 passengers were still onboard and they were all OK.
“Everyone in the room clapped because we were so grateful that he would come to the hotel and update us and apologize for what we had been through,” Dennis Hullinger said.
At one point on board the ship, while she was talking to her son on Facebook messenger, Rosemary Hullinger said she did start to worry about if she would get home alive.
“I have a daughter here in Tooele County that’s going to have a baby,” she said. “It will be our first grandchild that is close to us. I just wanted to make it home.”
Rosemary said their faith kept her and Dennis from fearing too much.
The Hullingers said they want to thank the Norwegian Air Force personnel who ran the helicopters, the Red Cross workers, the towns people, the hotel staff who worked extra hard to cook for them and all their fellow passengers.
“But most of all, we are grateful to a loving Heavenly Father who watched over us,” Rosemary Hullinger said. “And to our children who kept sending us messages of hope and love and updates about what they were hearing. And to our family and friends.”
The Hullingers said they might go on a cruise again, but not right away.
“We tell everyone that we got an extra excursion that we didn’t even have to pay for and a free helicopter ride,” said Rosemary Hullinger. “So life is good.”