Danube Cruise — Tragedy and Valor

Susan Vaughan here. We made friends and enjoyed the sights on our recent Viking Cruise on the Danube River from Germany to Austria. What happened, both good and bad, keeps turning over in my mind, so I felt I needed to write about it.

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The cruise did not turn out as planned, except for the excellent weather—warm, even hot, and sunny the entire week. On the first night aboard the Viking Freya, at about one thirty, I felt a huge shudder and heard splashing as the ship suddenly stopped. At three o’clock, the public address system announced the ship had had an accident and all passengers were to go to the dining room. Police and emergency responders filled the near shore and the bridge above us. We could see that in the headlights of the ambulances and fire trucks that the Freya had hit a railroad bridge.

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There was much grumbling and complaining and joking about someone losing his job over this, but the grim faces around us told another story. The ship was disabled from the impact, but we had to wait until a gangplank could be set up and transportation provided. At daylight we abandoned the Freya, aided by our crew and volunteer Red Cross, over two hundred people, from Erlangen. This is not a huge town, but their support and caring were wonderful, so many people in such a short time, to help us strangers.

Later that morning everyone was booked into hotels in central Nuremberg. We didn’t learn until later more details at a meeting called by a Viking executive. He shared news that sobered everyone. Apparently the wheelhouse didn’t lower as it was supposed to for traveling below bridges. The accident smashed the wheelhouse, and the Freya captain and a crew member were killed.

Such a terrible outcome, beyond what I’d imagined or guessed. I still don’t know whether it was hydraulics failure or human error or a combination. The Viking rep offered to send anyone home who wished, but most of us remained, making the best of the situation. Viking as a company and our crew as a team seemed intent on carrying on.

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The group had lunch at a Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square)  restaurant, with traditional Bavarian fare that included beer and bratwurst. Afterward, Torstein Hagen, the chairman and CEO of Viking Cruises, greeted us. Having arrived to support his grieving crew, he expressed his deep regrets for the accident that marred our trip. Other Viking ships had had mishaps, but these were the first deaths.

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Then, although it seemed inappropriate under the circumstances, we proceeded with our tour of Nuremberg. You may recognize the city name from the Nuremberg Trials after WWII. The trials were located there because the city had been Hitler’s headquarters. Nuremberg’s Zeppelin Field was the stadium where he staged some of his fiery speeches and paraded his troops. The stadium belongs to the town, which uses it for performances and sporting events.

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Nuremberg is a sprawling modern city, but also boasts an imperial palace and a medieval section behind a fortress wall. Another ship had to be outfitted and brought to meet us, so for next three days we traveled by motor coach and spent two nights in a golf resort hotel. The coach trip included our regular scheduled visits—the medieval town of Regensburg, the city of Passau on the German-Austria border, and Gottweig Abbey. After the visit to that 900-year-old working monastery, we boarded the Viking Bestla, happy to be reunited with the Viking Freya crew.

ac-viennastreetpalaceOur cruise concluded with two days in Vienna, home to the Hapsburg dynasty, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire for generations. Also the city of many famous artists and composers, Vienna juxtaposes contemporary life and imperial majesty. The fabulous facades of ancient palaces must be maintained by law, but inside many are modern offices or apartments.

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We missed some tours and cruising, but overall, we enjoyed the trip and made new friends, bonded by this shared experience.

For me, the deaths were shocking and sad but not personal, partly because neither man was introduced to the passengers. On our Rhine cruise two years ago and when we boarded the Bestla, the captains welcomed everyone at the first evening’s briefing. I wonder still if the mechanical issue that led to the Freya’s accident had kept the captain from joining us that night.

I cannot end without stressing that Viking as a company and the Freya crew were outstanding in their handling of the situation. And before you ask, yes, we’ll do another Viking cruise, where TBD. If you would like to see more of this cruise, you can find pictures and a day-by-day log on Facebook (Susan H. Vaughan).

About Susan Vaughan

Susan Vaughan is the award-winning author of twelve romantic suspense novels. Sign up for her email newsletter at her website, follow her on Twitter @SHVaughan, and like her on Facebook.
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14 Responses to Danube Cruise — Tragedy and Valor

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Sounds as though Viking did a great job of crisis management. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for commenting, Lea. Yes, crisis management was exactly it. They must have these contingency plans ready to go, wouldn’t you think? I can’t imagine coordinating all that so fast.

  2. Jen Blood says:

    Wow, Susan — what an incredible journey! I’ve been reading the Facebook posts and following your travels that way with much interest, so I was definitely interested to get all the details here. I’m so glad that you’re safe, and it sounds like despite the tragedy at the beginning, the trip overall was a good one. Thanks so much for sharing everything — including your wonderful photos! — with us!

  3. Such a tragic start to your cruise, but I’m glad you were able to salvage most of the trip. Lovely pictures, and the area sounds fascinating – so steeped in history. I can’t wait for our own cruise next month!

  4. Incredible, Susan. So sad about the loss of life. Yes, I imagine you all did bond over this tragedy.

    Putting that aside for the moment, your trip sounds great. Fabulous pictures.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks for commenting. Yes, bonding, but also questioning and wondering. I still don’t know what caused the accident. I keep searching the internet but come up empty.

  5. Sheila Seabrook says:

    It’s so sad about the deaths of the crew members, but it sounds as though Viking handled the situation admirably, which seems rare in todays world. Thanks for sharing your experience. I love your photos!

  6. Thanks so much, Sheila. I agree, and I’m so glad you like the photos.

  7. Maris says:

    I’m scheduled for a Viking cruise next October. I’m sorry to read about the accident and deaths, but it sounds as though the company took good care of you. I’m hoping there will be no accidents during my cruise, but it’s good to know they react quickly and that you ended up having a good time.

    • Maris,
      I hope my account didn’t scare you off, but yes, the company took care of us. It was amazing how quickly they marshaled all their people and new arrangements, although they must have contingency plans set up to an extent. I hope you enjoy your trip. Maybe we’ll meet on that cruise, because the hubby and I are taking another next October too.

  8. Wow, Susan! Crazy trip. Kudos to Viking Cruises for handling the tragedy so well. And glad you’ll be crusin’ again.

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