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The Burning of the Viking Princess

(1948—1966)

On April 8, 1966 the Norwegian cruise liner caught on fire. Only two people died.

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Viking Princess

The Viking Princess was damaged by fire in the Caribbean on 8 April 1966. It was a 12,800
GRT, 163m long Norwegian cruise liner, built in 1950. There were 235 passengers and 259
crew on board. While the ship was 60 miles off Cuba, a fire started in the engine room at
01:44 on 8 April. The fire could not be controlled, and the master ordered the passengers and
crew to abandon ship. The evacuation was well organised, although one lifeboat descended
too quickly, and another was temporarily stuck in mid-air and had to be freed with an axe.
There were 25 minor injuries. However, 2 passengers died from heart attacks. When passing
merchant ships arrived, fire had enveloped the superstructure. They picked up all the
passengers and crew from the lifeboats. The ship was towed to port, but was a constructive
total loss. There were 2 fatalities in total.

Awards Given

The following are people who risked their lives to save the Viking Princess

William O’Keefe, Damage Controlman Third Class, USCG

For heroic conduct on April 8, 1966, while serving on board the USCGC COOK INLET (WHEC 384), when he boarded the burning and abandoned Norwegian passenger vessel VIKING PRINCESS  to search for 40 missing survivors. When advised of the disaster, the COOK INLET departed Guantanamo Bay to assist the Norwegian ship, afire in the vicinity of Windward Passage. Upon arrival, finding the ship burning violently and apparently abandoned, O’KEEFE promptly volunteered as a member of a boarding party to search the vessel for survivors. Despite dense smoke and heat so intense that patches of paint on the outside were bursting into flame, he boarded and assisted in searching all accessible spaces above and below decks, including the infirmary areas and crew quarters. The boarding party remained aboard the flaming hulk for more than 20 minutes, executing a vigorous search until ascertaining that there was practically no chance that any living survivor remained aboard the VIKING PRINCESS. Thereafter, when warned that the fire was advancing under them along the lower decks, the boarding party withdrew. O’KEEFE demonstrated initiative, fortitude, and daring in spite of imminent personal danger during the entire operation. His unselfish actions, courage, and unwavering devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United Sates Coast Guard.

Robert Stanley Barnes, Damage Controlman Third Class, USCG

For heroic conduct on April 8, 1966, while serving on board the USCGC COOK INLET, [WHEC-384] when he boarded the burning and abandoned Norwegian passenger vessel VIKING PRINCESS to search for 40 missing survivors.  When advised of the disaster, the COOK INLET departed Guantanamo Bay to assist the Norwegian ship, afire in the vicinity of Windward Passage.  Upon arrival, finding the ship burning violently and apparently abandoned, BARNES promptly volunteered as a member of a boarding party to search the vessel for survivors.  Despite dense smoke and heat so intense that patches of paint on the outside were bursting into flame, he boarded and assisted in searching all accessible spaces above and below decks, including the infirmary areas and crew quarters.  The boarding party remained aboard the flaming hulk for more than 20 minutes, executing a vigorous search until ascertaining that there was practically no chance that any living survivor remained aboard the VIKING PRINCESS.  Thereafter, when warned that the fire was advancing under them along the lower decks, the boarding party withdrew. BARNES demonstrated initiative, fortitude, and daring in spite of imminent personal danger during the entire operation.  His unselfish actions, courage, and unwavering devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United Sates Coast Guard.

Albert Charles Buechler, Lieutenant, USCG

or heroic conduct on April 8, 1966 while serving on board the USCGC COOK INLET [WHEC-384], when he boarded the burning and abandoned Norwegian passenger vessel VIKING PRINCESS to search for 40 missing survivors.  When advised of the disaster, the COOK INLET departed Guantanamo Bay to assist the Norwegian ship, afire in the vicinity of Windward Passage.  Upon arrival, finding the ship burning violently and apparently abandoned, Lieutenant BUECHLER promptly volunteered as member of a boarding party to search the vessel for survivors. Despite dense smoke and head so intense that patches of paint on the outside were bursting into flame, he boarded and assisted in searching all accessible spaces above and below decks, including the infirmary area and crew quarters.  The boarding party remained aboard the hulk for more than 20 minutes, executing a vigorous search until ascertaining that there was practically no chance that any living survivor remained aboard the VIKING PRINCESS.  Thereafter, when warned that the fire was advancing under them on the lower decks, the boarding party withdrew.  Lieutenant BUECHLER demonstrated initiative, fortitude, and daring in spite of imminent personal danger during the entire operation.  His unselfish actions, courage, and unwavering devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Coast Guard.

John Emil Johnson, Chief Damage Controlman

For heroic conduct on April 8, 1966, while serving on board the USCGC COOK INLET (WHEC-384) when he boarded the burning and abandoned Norwegian passenger vessel VIKING PRINCESS to search for 40 missing survivors . When advised of the disaster, the COOK INLET departed Guantanamo Bay to assist the Norwegian ship , afire in the vicinity of Windward Passage. Upon arrival , finding the ship violently and apparently abandoned , JOHNSON promptly volunteered as a member of a boarding party to search the vessel for surviviors . Despite dense smoke and heat so intense that patches of paint on the outside were bursting into flame, he boarded and assisted in searching all accessible spaces above and below decks, including the infirmary areas and crew quarters. The boarding party remained aboard the flaming hulk for more than 20 minutes , executing a vigorous search until ascertaining that there was practically no chance that any living survivor remained aboard the VIKING PRINCESS Thereafter, when warned that the fire was advancing under them along the lower decks , the boarding party withdrew . JOHNSON demonstrated initiative , fortitude , and daring in spite of imminent personal danger during the entire operation . His unselfish actions , courage , and unwavering devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Coast Guard.

Ronald J. Davies, Lieutenant Junior

In the early morning hours of April 8th, 1966 an urgent radio message was intercepted, reporting fire aboard the Norwegian passenger vessel Viking Princess. A total of 235 passengers and 246 crew were aboard. The Cook Inlet arrived on scene and found Viking Princess fully aflame and apparently abandoned. Paint on the outside of the hull was beginning to scorch and blister over large areas from the intense interior heat. Lieutenant Junior Grade Davies, Cook Inlet’s Damage Control Officer, was one of the first to board, over a 30-foot debarkation ladder hanging from the windward quarter. As the Rescue and Assistance Team advanced toward the fire boundary they could see the rivets around the doorway frames glowing in the dark, “looking like the gates to hell”. All members of the party voluntarily underwent great peril in proceeding below decks in heavy smoke where routes of access were unfamiliar and the extent of the fire’s travel could not be clearly discerned. No evidence of survivors was found, and after about a half hour the Commanding Officer of Cook Inlet could see from the pattern of smoldering paint on the outside that the fire was advancing beneath the boarding party, and ordered their withdrawal. No survivors were found on board, and after two days, it was established that all personnel were accounted for.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Davies continued his career in engineering, and retired at the rank of Captain.

http://www.uscga.edu/uploadedFiles/Campus/Landmarks/Hall_of_Heroes/docs/Davies.pdf

Event Details

Edit
Date:
From: 08 Apr 1966 1
To: 08 Apr 1966 1
Included in Event:
Event Date: 02 Apr 1966 2
Event Name: Start of Trip 2
Origin:
Date Built: 1948 1
Name: Lavoisier 1
Place: St. Denis, France 1
Weight: 11,949 gross tons 1
After improvements:
17,600 tons 1
Caught Fire:
around 1 a.m. 3
Cost:
$16 million 1
Passengers That Died:
Passenger Name: Mrs. Harold Lewen 4
Passenger Name: Peter N. Brooks 4
People or Groups:
Name: Otto Thoresen 5
Role: Captain 5
Place:
Location: Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti 5
Rebuilt as Cruise ship:
Date: 1961 1
Sold for parts:
Date: 14 Jul 1966 1
Place: Bilbao, Spain 1
Towed after fire:
Date: 12 Apr 1966 2
Place: Kingston, Jamaica 2
Trip:
Arrival: Buenos Aires 1
Date: 1950 6
Departure: Le Havre 6
Name: Lavoisier 6

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