Viking cruise passengers describe a wild wave that killed one

Passengers with battered bodies and crew members shouting codes sent passengers aboard the Viking Polaris cruise ship into a frenzy in the moments after the ship was battered by a killer rogue wave, a witness to the mess said.

“I’ve seen people beaten up, bandaged and injured. One man had stitches on his forehead, another woman had a bandage around her head. Another had a huge bump on his head that looked like he’d been hit with a baseball bat,” Tamarah Castaneda, a retired firefighter, told the DailyMail.

The ship was navigating the notoriously treacherous Drakes Passage between South America and Antarctica in stormy weather when at 10:40 p.m. a rogue wave struck the boat, shattering several cabin windows.

Castaneda said the wave was so powerful that she initially thought there was an internal explosion on the ship. She described the loud noise as two cars crashing into each other.

Her wife Deborah Terry said the wave was a “terrible jolt, like the ship had hit a wall”.

Chaos and screams followed the crash. Terry said she heard crew members say the ship was taking on water. A “Code Delta” announcement was made instructing passengers to remain in their cabins.

The ship had returned to Argentina after a passenger was injured on an expedition to Antarctica.
AFP via Getty Images

Terry and Castaneda were so nervous about the ship sinking that they began packing a dry bag with essential items until word got out that the ship was going on.

The following day it was announced that Sheri Zhu, 62, died after being hit by broken glass from a broken window. Other passengers were swept away by the wave but survived the horrific ordeal.

The cruise ship had made its second trip of the journey through the Drakes Passage to take another passenger to a hospital. An unidentified woman was injured earlier in the day during a trip to Antarctica, Terry said.

Groups of passengers had been returning to the ship in inflatable Zodiac lifeboats after exploring a landmass on the continent when the weather turned too acidic. A woman broke her leg, the couple heard it on a crew member’s radio, and her injuries were so severe she required surgery.

Wandering Albatross flying over rough seas, Drake's Passage.
The Drakes Passage is a notoriously treacherous passage between South America and Antarctica.
Getty Images

“Because of the weather, a helicopter couldn’t fly in and there weren’t any other ships around,” Terry said. “We have been told that all other activities have been cancelled. My wife and I understood, but we were disappointed.”

Despite the deteriorating weather, the Viking crew decided to return to Argentina, from where the ship set sail. The journey through the Drakes Passage was daunting the first time, Terry said, but was noticeably more impressive the second time.

However, passengers continued on with their vacation confident that the cruise ship would weather the storm.

“We were going to dinner and our wine glass fell right off the table and broke,” Terry recalled. “People were dancing and eating and there was no thought of a disaster happening.”

The Norwegian-flagged cruise ship Viking Polaris (L) and the Quark Expeditions-chartered ship MV World Explorer anchor in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in Ushuaia, southern Argentina, December 1, 2022.
Passenger Deborah Terry estimated the waves were about 40 feet high.
AFP via Getty Images

Castaneda and Terry had, in the hours leading up to the chaos, filmed the massive waves engulfing the cruise ship from their room on the third floor of the luxury liner.

Another video the couple captured from the ship’s yoga studio shows plenty of white water as the waves swirl around the moving boat. Terry estimated the waves breaking at her window were about 40 feet high.

A passenger who had been in a cabin near Zhu told the couple that he thought he was going to die when the rogue wave hit.

“The ceiling and the walls collapsed, furniture was thrown everywhere,” the man is said to have said.

Viking is still investigating the incident, it said in a statement last week.

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