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Norwegian islander ferries children to safety

By Tom Watkins, CNN
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Boater describes rescuing survivors
  • Kasper Ilaug was watching TV on an island near Oslo when he heard news of the bombing
  • He took a boat to nearby Utoya Island, where he picked up children hiding alongshore
  • He calls his efforts nothing special, saying Norwegians are "calm" and "grounded"

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(CNN) -- On Friday afternoon, Kasper Ilaug was inside his summer house, a cabin on Norway's Storoya Island, watching the Tour de France when the television broadcast was interrupted by a news flash -- a bomb had exploded in nearby Oslo.

The bicycle race was almost over, and the 53-year-old computer programmer clicked through other channels in an attempt to keep watching the race. No luck. "I was a little annoyed" they were all focused on the explosion, he told CNN by phone.

But his interest picked up when he saw that the building that had borne the brunt of the blast was Oslo's Government House, where his father used to work and his ex-wife and her new husband currently work.

He texted his daughter to find out how her mother was. She returned his query. Fine.

Then his phone rang -- a friend who lives 22 kilometers (14 miles) south of Olso sounded agitated. "He said, 'You have to get in the boat of a friend of ours and rescue people from Utoya (Island), because something terrible is happening there,'" said Ilaug. "I thought he was joking with me."

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But Ilaug grabbed his iPad and cell phone, and donned a bright-yellow jacket, a red helmet and red water-shoes to protect himself from the driving rain. He then ran down to the 18-foot fishing boat, and its 50-horsepower engine.

The temperature outside was a brisk 15 degrees C (59 degrees F).

Within 15 minutes, he was at Utoya Island. He saw people in a handful of other private boats that had lined up along the shore.

"We saw some youngsters laying there and waving to us," he said. "They were terrified."

Along the shore were children crouched behind rocks and buildings and shrubs. "They waved to me," he said.

"Then I got this text message from one of my friends that said there's a lunatic out there shooting people." Then he saw helicopters flying overhead.

By now, he had realized it was no joke.

Ilaug brought the boat along the shore and children clambered in, as many as the boat could handle without sinking. The children -- most of them in bathing suits or half-dressed -- were shivering.

"Of course, they were in shock," he said.

He observed one group of children behind rocks. "I tried to wave to them and to get their attention, but I didn't get a response," he said.

"I thought, maybe they are still in shock or laying behind that rock for shelter."

He understands now that they were dead.

"They asked if I was police. I said, 'No, I'm just a private person. Our objective is to go to shore, and you will get blankets and you will find police and medical attention.'"

I realized that me sitting there in the boat with my red helmet and yellow jacket would be a perfect target.
--Kasper Ilaug
  • Norway
  • Oslo

Then, several of them told him that a policeman had shot at them. He focused on the matter at hand -- promising those whom he could not accommodate that he would return soon, then motoring toward the mainland, about a half mile away. There, dozens of ambulances were lined up along the shore to receive them.

"I think I made three trips," he said.

"They were so grateful. These youngsters, they said, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.' One girl started crying." He tried to keep her from causing others to panic. "We have to have an agreement," he told his passengers. "We should keep quiet until we get out of here."

He knew he'd placed himself in a vulnerable position. But the danger didn't deter him.

"I realized that me sitting there in the boat with my red helmet and yellow jacket would be a perfect target," he recalled. "I thought, well, we are here and we have some things to do and I am happy that we managed to get so many of the youngsters."

After he had delivered his final group and could see no more children along the shore, he returned to the island where he has his summer home, opened the golf house for police to use, then went back to his cabin. There, he prepared a cup of coffee and some bread "and I suddenly understood what I had been through."

Ilaug texted his daughter that he was OK, sent a message to his sister on holiday in Greece and to his niece "and told her that we were doing what we had to do."

Hours later, he considered his efforts nothing special. Not in Norway, a place he said is full of calm, down-to-earth people.

"There's a lot of other people as well here who have done the same thing that I have done," he said. "We're pretty earth-like, grounded people."

"We're just 4.7 million people. Nothing much happens here. Even in a catastrophic situation like this, we keep calm. I'm just an ordinary Norwegian people. I expect that other Norwegians would do the same thing for me in a same or similar situation."

By early Saturday, he was still awake -- and still did not know who had won the latest stage of the Tour de France.

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