Dagmar Larsen and the VIKING liferaft

In March 1963, the cutter “Dagmar Larsen” shipwrecked in the cold North Sea. Following a full three days adrift in a liferaft, the crew of three was saved and brought home safely. In many ways, this vintage rescue story was the event that really got VIKING on the crest of the waves as a liferafts manufacturer.

On Sunday 10th of March 1963 at 15.30, skipper Johan Larsen contacted the local radio operator to request the bearing for his cutter “Dagmar Larsen”. He was put through to the First Officer of the rescue vessel “F.V. Mortensen” and the two seafarers agreed that a call should be made from “Dagmar Larsen” at 18.00. When the call was not realized, it triggered a massive search and rescue operation involving a rescue ship, aircraft and over 100 cutters.


From Sunday night and Monday, the area was searched on an individual basis, yet from Tuesday morning, a coordinated fine comb search of 10.000 square nautical miles was arranged, comprising the original search party as well as two navy minesweepers and two navy cutters.

Just in time

When evening fell, the search operation had yet to provide any signs of life from the “Dagmar Larsen” and efforts were close to being called off. Meanwhile - and fortunately - VIKINGs Managing Director at the time, Jens Bjerre-Madsen had been made aware of the event during a military exercise in Southern Denmark. The command of the Royal Danish navy wanted to know whether the assumedly distressed vessel was carrying a rubber liferaft. The family of the skipper did not believe this to be the case, however, Bjerre-Madsen was able to inform them, that a liferaft had been ordered for the “Dagmar Larsen” just one month earlier for delivery at a later stage, but that he had been persuaded to take immediate delivery of the raft. A call was made to the shipyard that had last serviced the vessel, at it was confirmed that that a liferaft had indeed been installed on board the “Dagmar Larsen” – just one day before its fateful last voyage…

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They are out there – carry on!

On Wednesday morning, the radio reported that the search for “Dagmar Larsen” had been called off. Shocked by this information, VIKING Operations Manager E. Kjeldsen and Managing Director Bjerre-Madsen drove straight to the headquarters of the regional fisheries association from where the operation had been managed. Here they stated the claim that if the crew had made it to the liferaft (which was assumed to be very likely) they would definitely be “out there” and the search had to go on! Then right there, during the discussions on whether or not to carry on the search, a cleaning lady burst in to the office with reports of good news from the radio. Have you not heard it? She shouted. The radio was switched on and the message received was indeed a good one. A cutter – the “Mary Rønn” had spotted the crew of the “Dagmar Larsen” paddling towards their location in a liferaft. They were now being taken on board and would be making their way back to port immediately.


Sunk by debris

About the incident that caused the sinking, the skipper reported that the vessel was struck by a large piece of floating wooden debris that had penetrated the hull, flooding the engine room and eventually also the accumulator powering the radio. This caused a loss of both propulsion and radio contact. Manual pumping efforts to keep the water at bay were unsuccessful and once the water had reached the crew cabin, the liferaft was launched and boarded. The “Dagmar Larsen” sank shortly after.

Back to safety – and in good spirit

Even though the three rugged fishermen had spent three days at sea in the liferaft, they were in surprisingly good spirit and condition upon their rescue. They had managed to salvage a small transistor radio from their stricken vessel – and even though it broke down hours later, the news of the search and rescue mission had been well received.

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Back at shore, everyone was overjoyed to learn that the crew had been found, saved and reunited with their loved ones. This pride and joy was felt in a special way at VIKING, where the entire staff had remained more or less glued to the radio during the event. To this day, story of “Dagmar Larsen” and the VIKING liferaft stands both as the event that cemented the importance of the liferaft in the minds of Danish fishermen – and as a major symbol of the genesis of VIKINGs mission and subsequent development as a global leader in maritime safety.