It was September 28, 1994, in the middle of the night. A ferry named Estonia, which had sailed from Tallinn to Stockholm many times before, was battling high waves and water was breaking into it. Less than an hour later, it disappeared from the radar and from the surface of the sea.
For exactly eight minutes, we had Estonio on the radar. She didn’t move. At 1.48, she disappeared from the screens and we knew exactly what that meant. “This is the day after the worst of the Titanic’s shipwrecked tragedy, visibly impaired by what a helpless follower, said the Coast Guard commander on the Finnish island of Utö Pasi Staff.
It was September 28, 1994, exactly a quarter of a century ago, and a tragedy took place in the Baltic. There were almost a thousand passengers on the Estonia ferry from Estonia’s Tallinn to Stockholm. Specifically – 989. Only 137 survived. Only every seventh.
Survivors reported two heavy metal bursts shortly after midnight, and then everything happened very quickly, STA reports. Water was breaking into the ferry, which was tilting more and more.
“Chaos reigned, people didn’t know what to do,” said one of the survivors, Estonian mechanic Neeme Kalk. Finding themselves in a storm, the ferry was rocking dangerously as passengers panicked toward the deck. “People rushed aboard. Many of the old people failed to get on the lifeboats, they are young. The last we saw was an Estonie shell that disappeared under the waves,” he said.
It only took half an hour.
Tragedy in a turbulent sea
When Estonia set off on a 14-hour journey to Stochkholm, a strong wind had already stirred the sea, but no one had even thought that the trip could end tragically. This situation is nothing special in the Baltic Sea and the 189-man crew was used to it. Although the weather was forecast to be worse, Captain Arvo Andresson was not worried.
A few hours later, at 1.24, he sent the one and only call for help. “Help. Help. This is Estonia …” he began. After a few words, silence reigned. They probably ran out of electricity, probably because of water intrusion into the engine room, they later guessed. When the rescue helicopters arrived at the scene an hour later, it was too late for most people on the ferry.
Many did not even get out of their cabins before running out of electricity and the ship was blacked out. Others, in a panic brawl, simply weren’t strong enough, others reached the deck, but didn’t have time to board the lifeboats. Survivors told how they saw passengers jumping into the sea. But the only hope for a solution was false, the water was only ten degrees, too little to withstand. When the rescue helicopters arrived at the scene an hour later, it was too late for most passengers and crew.
501 passengers were from Sweden, 232 were from Estonia. The ferry had 70 Stockholm police officers on their way back, a group of 52 seniors from the Norrkoping city of Sweden and schoolchildren from Sweden and Estonia.
26 helicopters from Finland, Sweden and Denmark were sent for assistance, five ferries turned and sailed for assistance. The sea was full of lifeboats, lifeguards said, and many were capsized due to the high waves. The next 24 hours were looking for survivors in the sea. “I saw a lot of life jackets and lifeboats. I saw people in the water. I saw the living and the dead,” said nurse Katharina Hult-Langton of Sweden, who was part of a team on one of the helicopters, a day later. Helicopter pilot Johan Larsson added at the time that the conditions on the lifeboats were so bad that at first they could not even estimate who was alive and dead. “I tried to pick the ones who looked the weakest and probably wouldn’t spend the night. It was a terrible choice,” he said.
“You feel so small when 10-foot waves rise above your head,” said Risto Leino, who was coming down the helicopter as a lifeguard.
The cause of the accident 25 years later is still unknown.
Conspiracy theories: Military equipment exploded on the ferry
The commission of inquiry, which examined the accident and which received harsh criticism, attributed the main blame for such a rapid sinking of several tons of heavy ferry primarily to the erroneously constructed shield on the bow and the defects of the crew, mostly composed of Estonians. These conclusions, however, have not, to date, silenced the speculation as to the real causes of the sinking of the ferry, which was made in 1980 at the German shipyard Meyer-Werft.
It is undisputed that on the bow of a 157-meter-long ship on the high seas, it opened and then broke off, and then a huge amount of water could quickly and easily break into the car deck. It was also the only part of the ship found on the high seas. But all the explanations ended.
Why this has happened, however, despite the endless controversy in various commissions, it is still not clear. The exact cause of the accident, which would also bring legal consequences for those responsible, remains unknown after 25 years. This still does not give peace to the survivors and relatives of the victims.
Officials have repeatedly denied that shipwreck could be caused by sabotage or a bomb blast on a ferry because it allegedly carried military technology. Authorities have confirmed that they were transporting military equipment to Estonia a few days before the crash.
Despite repeated requests from survivors and relatives of the deceased, the Swedish government has not kept the promise of lifting the ship or finding dead bodies in the wreckage. Instead, Estonio was declared by law to be the grave of about 700 victims of the wreckage. There are no new plans for raising the ferry.
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