EXCLUSIVE – ‘Medics were overrun, someone was being resuscitated… broken bones, people on stretchers, the crew crying. It was PETRIFYING’: Passengers on storm-lashed Saga cruise recall their 18-hour ordeal as 30ft waves tore into the boat
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Passengers have told of their holiday horror after they were left with broken bones and saw people being resuscitated when 30-foot waves tore into the side of their Saga cruise ship.   

The Spirit of Discovery cut short its two-week voyage, returning to Portsmouth on Saturday, after tourists were left fearing for their lives during the storm in the Bay of Biscay.

Around 100 of the 1,000 people on board were injured, the majority of whom were hurt as the ship’s safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga. 

But passengers who saw the carnage with their own eyes warn the number of wounded could be closer to 150. 

Witnesses claim one person was airlifted from the ship – while eight ambulances awaited the docking ship at Portsmouth International Port as four people were taken to hospital.

The Spirit of Discovery cut short its two-week voyage and was headed back to Portsmouth on Saturday as holiday-goers feared for their lives amidst the terrifying tempest in the Bay of Biscay

The Spirit of Discovery cut short its two-week voyage and was headed back to Portsmouth on Saturday as holiday-goers feared for their lives amidst the terrifying tempest in the Bay of Biscay

The majority of those injured were hurt as the ship's safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga

The majority of those injured were hurt as the ship’s safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga 

Around 100 of the 1,000 people on board were injured, but those on board who saw the carnage with their own eyes warn the number of injured could be closer to 150

Around 100 of the 1,000 people on board were injured, but those on board who saw the carnage with their own eyes warn the number of injured could be closer to 150

As the cruise ship was relentlessly pummeled for 18 hours some desperate passengers wrote notes to loved ones in case they did not make it home – while other traumatised travellers wore lifejackets for two days straight.

One eye-witness to the horror, 58, told of the terrifying scenes on board as she rode out the carnage with her husband and parents.

‘You could hear plates crashing and then there was an announcement from the captain who screamed over the tannoy system as the ship veered. The panic in his voice made everyone else panic,’ she told The News.

‘The medics were overrun. My mum saw someone being resuscitated, there were broken bones, people on stretchers and people crying including the crew, who were running around frantically trying to help everyone. It was petrifying.

‘People were sleeping with life jackets on and writing messages home to loved ones in case we didn’t get back. We’re happy to be alive.’ 

The ship was left stationary at the mercy of towering waves for 18 hours, with passengers claiming the waves were as high as 54 feet – taller than three double-decker buses.

And other passengers told of the chaos on board the ship as the crew attempted to wait the storm out.

‘We couldn’t believe how high we were being thrown when the 54ft waves were hitting. People were being picked up off the floor,’ Peter Sawyerl, 76, from Christchurch said.

Witnesses claim one person was airlifted from the ship - while eight ambulances awaited the docking ship at Portsmouth International Port as four people were taken to hospital. Pictured: Saga Cruises's Spirit of Discovery in port

Witnesses claim one person was airlifted from the ship – while eight ambulances awaited the docking ship at Portsmouth International Port as four people were taken to hospital. Pictured: Saga Cruises’s Spirit of Discovery in port

As the cruise ship was relentlessly pummeled for 18 hours some desperate passengers wrote notes to loved ones in case they did not make it home - while other traumatised travellers wore lifejackets for two days straight

As the cruise ship was relentlessly pummeled for 18 hours some desperate passengers wrote notes to loved ones in case they did not make it home – while other traumatised travellers wore lifejackets for two days straight 

The ship was left stationary at the mercy of towering waves for 18 hours, with passengers claiming the waves were as high as 54 feet - taller than three double-decker buses

The ship was left stationary at the mercy of towering waves for 18 hours, with passengers claiming the waves were as high as 54 feet – taller than three double-decker buses 

The majority of those injured on board were hurt as the ship’s safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga.

The boss of the cruise company has admitted that the experience was ‘extremely frightening’ for passengers – as he insists they ‘remained safe’ while on board. 

In a letter to customers, Nigel Blanks said they would release details of compensation over the next few days due to the ‘disappointing end to your cruise’.

The horrifying ordeal forced part of the dining room to be converted into ‘a makeshift medical area’ and passengers were told to stay in their cabins for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.

Passengers described people being ‘thrown’ by the force of the emergency stop and pictures show books, tables and other furniture flung to the ground as the intense storm gripped the ship. 

Passenger Richard Reynolds told MailOnline that people on board were screaming for their lives as 30ft waves battered the windows. He described the crossing as one of the most traumatic things he has ever experienced.

The 60-year-old was on the ship along with his wife and elderly parents.

His mother, 84, was injured when the ship rocked and she was thrown to the floor while he and others were confined to their cabins where passengers wrote final messages to family members on their phones and wore lifejackets non-stop for two days in case the ship capsized.

The majority of those injured on board were hurt as the ship's safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga

The majority of those injured on board were hurt as the ship’s safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga

The boss of the cruise company has admitted that the experience was 'extremely frightening' for passengers - as he insists they 'remained safe' while on board. Pictured: Spirit of Discovery in port at Portsmouth

The boss of the cruise company has admitted that the experience was ‘extremely frightening’ for passengers – as he insists they ‘remained safe’ while on board. Pictured: Spirit of Discovery in port at Portsmouth

Richard and his family spent £19,000 on the cruise and he is considering legal action against Saga. 

He told MailOnline: ‘We haven’t seen the captain since this incident – normally they would say goodbye to his passengers. 

‘All we have had is a letter from the CEO Nigel Blanks apologising which was normal corporate drivel saying they will be in contact in a week regarding compensation.’

He added: ‘The whole experience was horrendous. Waves were coming up to the fifth storey windows, people were screaming and furniture and plates and glass were flying in every direction.

‘I am ex-military and fire service and I have dealt with a lot of traumatic experiences in my career but this up there with the worst of them.

‘People were screaming for their lives, things were banging and crashing around us and they thought they were going to die.

‘We were confined to our cabins for two days, we were laying in bed fully clothed with life jackets on.

‘I know other passengers wrote notes on their phones to loved ones because they didn’t think they were going to make it out of there.

The horrifying ordeal forced part of the dining room to be converted into 'a makeshift medical area' and passengers were told to stay in their cabins for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday

The horrifying ordeal forced part of the dining room to be converted into ‘a makeshift medical area’ and passengers were told to stay in their cabins for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday 

Passenger Richard Reynolds told MailOnline that people on board were screaming for their lives as 30ft waves battered the windows. He described the crossing as one of the most traumatic things he has ever experienced

Passenger Richard Reynolds told MailOnline that people on board were screaming for their lives as 30ft waves battered the windows. He described the crossing as one of the most traumatic things he has ever experienced

The ship's automatic safety system was activated, causing the vessel's engines to fire and jerk the ship into a tight turn, which allegedly caused injuries, but Mr Reynolds says many passengers had been injured before this happened

The ship’s automatic safety system was activated, causing the vessel’s engines to fire and jerk the ship into a tight turn, which allegedly caused injuries, but Mr Reynolds says many passengers had been injured before this happened

‘We were there chaperoning my elderly parents, my mother was in the medical ward because she had a fall. They were so swamped they had to turn the main dining room into a makeshift first aid area because it was completely overrun.

‘She witnessed somebody being resuscitated by three members of staff and they are saying there were only minor injuries?’

The ship’s automatic safety system was activated, causing the vessel’s engines to fire and jerk the ship into a tight turn, which allegedly caused injuries, but Mr Reynolds says many passengers had been injured before this happened.

He also said he believed the true number injured is closer to 150 than 100.

He added: ‘There were 980 passengers on board and we heard that over 150 people were injured, that’s 15% of passengers when the average age was 76.

‘People had broken hips, my mother had a fall and thankfully she was ok but she was kept in the medical bay where somebody had to be resuscitated in front of her. These weren’t minor injuries.

‘To subject the passengers to these extreme conditions then whitewash what is going on is totally unacceptable.’

The five more seriously injured passengers were treated at the ship’s medical centre and were taken to hospital last night as a precaution after the vessel finally arrived at Portsmouth Harbour.

The company maintains that the ship was adequately prepared for the anticipated challenging conditions

The company maintains that the ship was adequately prepared for the anticipated challenging conditions 

Responding to questions over the decision to return to the UK via the Bay of Biscay, Saga contended that continuing on the original tour or choosing an alternate route would have meant confronting the storm head-on.

The crew had initially planned to moor at La Coruna port in northwestern Spain, but were informed while en route the port had been closed due to bad weather, forcing them to continue north and traverse Biscay on the way to the UK.

The company maintains that the ship was adequately prepared for the anticipated challenging conditions.

But Mr Reynolds claims Saga prioritised getting the ship back ready for the next cruise.

He said: ‘The bottom line is we shouldn’t have been there, we were the only cruise ship that didn’t seek shelter.

‘Three days before the storm hit we were told we were trying to get ahead of if. All they cared about was getting back in time for the next cruise.

‘They put getting the boat back ahead of safety. I was tracking this storm on my phone two days before we got to it, they thought they could get ahead of it but we were left trapped in the storm with 14-metre waves and 70mph winds.’

Jan Bendall, 75, who was travelling with her husband, said the vessel remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was ‘caught in the middle of the storm’.

Jan Bendall, 75, (pictured) said the vessel then remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was 'caught in the middle of the storm'

Jan Bendall, 75, (pictured) said the vessel then remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was ‘caught in the middle of the storm’

She said: ‘We were lucky – we’re quite able-bodied, but I think some of the older people and people in their own in cabins were quite worried.’

Despite the ordeal, she said the staff were ‘absolutely fantastic’, with the crew and captain gave regular updates and repeatedly reassured passengers ‘the ship is safe’.

She and her husband disembarked at about 09.00 GMT on Tuesday and described seeing workers replacing glass doors, windows and partitions that had been smashed in the storm.

Other passengers told the BBC that the captain of the pummeled ship sounded ‘physically scared’ as he spoke to them, while crewmembers were crying and others ‘feared for their lives’. 

A Saga Cruises statement said: ‘Spirit of Discovery was sadly caught in the challenging weather conditions this weekend, as she started her return to the UK.

‘The ship remained safe at all times, but due to the impact of the storm some guests sustained injuries. All were treated immediately by onboard medical staff.

‘While the weather is clearly beyond our control, we want to offer our sincere apologies to all those affected who are now safely on their way home in calmer seas.’

The company added that damage to fixtures on the ship was ‘very limited’.



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