We survived flooded cruise ships, engine explosions in mid-air and a deadly plane crash on the M1 motorway
ESTHER and Derek Browne beamed at each other as their luxury cruise ship set sail on a tour of the Nordics and the stunning Northern Lights.
The Hampshire couple had splashed out around £8,000 on the 12-day cruise to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary – but had no idea horror was about to strike.
Eight days into the journey in March, the Viking Sky ship, carrying 1,373 people, completely lost engine power and became stranded in a storm off the west coast of Norway.
Battered by 26ft-high waves, the swaying £300 million vessel soon started to flood – while passengers suffered injuries as tables, chairs and even bits of ceiling smashed into them.
Esther and Derek didn't know when the terrifying ordeal would end – or whether they'd survive.
The couple feature in a new Channel 5 documentary, When Cruises Go Horribly Wrong & Other Travel Nightmares, which tracks down British survivors of journeys from hell.
Ship suddenly plunged into darkness
For Esther and Derek, the first sign of trouble came after the Viking Sky sailed into Norway's Hustadvika region, which is known for its choppy waters.
Before long, passengers were overbalancing and chairs were sent flying across rooms.
"Folks were looking a bit concerned. It really was very rough," recalls Esther.
Guests were told to stay seated as huge waves crashed into the ship, in scenes likened to the Titanic. But as the situation escalated, the vessel was suddenly plunged into eerie silence.
"The lights went out and there was not a sound," Esther adds.
"And I said to Derek, 'Why can't we hear the engines'?"
All four of the Viking Sky's engines had shut down, leaving no power nor stabilisers – fins or rotors mounted to ships to stop them excessively rolling from side to side.
It was now a "dead ship", at the mercy of the unforgiving ocean. And in the extreme conditions, the vessel began drifting perilously towards nearby rocks.
'I thought it was the end'
Passenger Denise Manning, who was also on-board along with her cousin Fiona Dawes, weeps: "I just thought, you know, [I'd] never see my grandchild… I thought it was the end."
While the crew managed to restart one of the engines and anchor the ship just in time, lifejacket-clad passengers were told to go to designated safe areas, or "muster stations".
But even these were being flooded by water, so powerful it was knocking people off seats.
"I thought we were going to get sucked out the ship," says Denise.
With workers unable to launch lifeboats amid the conditions, the decision was made to winch holidaymakers off the ship's top deck into helicopters and airlift them to safety.
For many, like Derek, this was a frightening experience – but it was also their only option.
And despite billowing winds, rescuers managed to hoist 479 people one-by-one on to helicopters before the weather subsided and the ship, with hundreds still on board, could be towed into port.
No-one was killed in the disaster, although at least 16 were hospitalised.
The Norwegian Maritime Authority later said the engine failure was caused by low oil pressure – leading Viking Cruises to "revise" its procedures to avoid future issues. The cruise company also refunded passengers and said their safety and well-being was its "first priority".
47 killed in M1 plane horror
But while everyone on the ship survived, the same sadly can't be said for other travel tragedies featured in the show – like the Kegworth plane disaster that killed 47 and left debris scattered across the M1.
Pals Leslie Bloomer and Mervyn Finlay were among 126 people on-board the Boeing 737 when it smashed on to a motorway embankment in Leicestershire in one of Britain's worst air disasters.
The pair had jetted off on the doomed flight from London Heathrow to Belfast, Northern Ireland, at 7.52pm on January 8, 1989, after making a last-minute change to their booking.
But terror struck 13 minutes later as a fan blade broke in the left engine.
Horrified passengers heard a "bang" and saw streaks of fire spurting from the damaged engine, as smoke began pouring into Flight BD 092's cabin through the ventilation system.
Survivor Leslie says: "I could see flames, sparks coming out the back of the engine."
Passengers' fears then heightened as the pilot mistakenly told them he was experiencing trouble with the right engine, not the left, amid confusion over which engine had dropped out.
Aviation safety expert Dai Whittingham says the captain and his co-pilot were relying on new electronic displays at the time, which were "less easy to interpret" than previous ones.
They ended up unwittingly shut down the wrong engine.
Passengers' 'last words' to pals
The plane – which was being diverted to East Midlands Airport – started gliding through the air before the left engine burst into flames and passengers took the "brace" position.
Mervyn recalls: "Everyone was very fearful but nobody screamed or nobody panicked.
"I thought, we're all dead. And Leslie said to me, 'It's been nice knowing you'."
At 8.25am, the aircraft smashed into the M1, just 900 metres short of the runway. Remarkably, nobody on the ground was injured and the pilots were among those who survived.
Leslie, whose legs were jammed under a seat, was dragged to safety by hero police sergeant Bob Salter, whom he was reunited with in heartwarming scenes earlier this year.
Mervyn, however, woke up in hospital seven weeks later to find he'd fractured his spinal cord and couldn't move his legs. He had to undergo a 17-hour operation.
Three decades on, the two friends remain haunted by the crash – which resulted in changes to safety procedures and the way that planes are built.
"I can vividly remember that night," says Leslie.
'There was a boom sound and an orange glow'
Businessman Jon Chaplin was fortunate to avoid a similar fate on his British Airways flight in May 2013 after both of his plane's engine covers, known as cowlings, ripped off.
Jon, who was travelling from Heathrow to Oslo, Norway, noticed the casing around one of the engines start to "lift away" as the early morning flight prepared to take off.
He recalls: "As we got to takeoff speed the cowling lifted right up, so it was flapping like two wings… then at the point of takeoff the pressure became so great they broke off."
One of the engines then burst into flames.
"It was a boom sound and the cabin filled with orange glow from the fire," Jon adds.
After only being in the air for minutes, the plane returned to the airport using just one damaged engine, with passengers fearing it might pitch down in busy central London.
Incredibly, it made a successful emergency landing, as chunks of metal fell on to the runway.
An investigation later found the engine covers had been left unlatched after maintenance.
Train passengers forced to urinate on the floor
Aside from planes and cruise ships, other vehicles can be at the centre of trips from hell – like the 4.35pm train service from London Bridge to Dartford on March 2 last year.
The service became stranded for hours just outside Lewisham station amid snowy weather conditions, after Storm Emma and the 'Beast from the East' hit the UK.
Commuters were left "cramped like sardines" in carriages, with at least one poor person who couldn't get to the toilet forced to relieve themselves on the train floor.
"Someone obviously couldn't hold it in and there was urine that was running down the carriage. I think I had to step out the way of the trail of it," recalls passenger Piers.
Commuters didn't know if the tracks beneath them were still live, so would have risked death by jumping off the train. But after seeing emergency crews outside, they ignored the advice of the train operator, climbed down and walked alongside the tracks towards the station.
"The relief that I felt as soon as I stepped on Lewisham station, it's just indescribable," says Piers.
An unexpected arrival
But while journeys that don't go as planned can be stressful, disastrous and even fatal, some can turn out amazingly – as mum Leanne Parrett found out last October.
Leanne, then heavily pregnant with her second child, was being driven to hospital for an induction at rush hour by her husband Sam when she started experiencing contractions.
Stuck on a busy motorway in Gloucestershire, she realised with shock the baby was coming. "I was like s***, I can't do this… I'm not equipped to give birth in the car," Leanne recalls.
Sam quickly pulled into a lay by and rang 999 – but as he spoke to the operator, his pained wife let out an agonised scream then shouted: "The baby is out!".
For the proud parents, it's a journey they'll never forget.
"It was scary because it was just the three of us but it was also the most amazing experience because it was just the three of us," Leanne says.
- When Cruises Go Horribly Wrong & Other Travel Nightmares airs tonight (Wednesday, August 14) on Channel 5 at 9pm
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