Passengers with battered bodies and crew members yelling in code sent passengers aboard the Viking Polaris cruise ship into a frenzy in the moments after the liner was smashed by a killer rogue wave, a witness to the chaos said.
“I saw people banged up, bandaged and bruised. One man had stitches across his forehead, another woman had a bandage across her head. Another had a huge lump on their head that looked like he had been beaten up with a baseball bat,” Tamarah Castaneda, a retired firefighter, told the DailyMail.
The ship was traveling in stormy weather through the notoriously treacherous Drakes Passage between South America and Antarctica when a rogue wave hit the boat at 10:40 p.m., shattering several cabin windows.
Castaneda said the wave was so strong that she initially thought there was an internal explosion on the ship. She described the powerful noise as two cars crashing into one another.
Her wife, Deborah Terry said the wave was a “horrendous jolt like the ship had ran into a brick wall.”
The crash was followed by chaos and yelling. Terry said she overheard crew members saying the ship was taking on water. A “Code Delta” announcement was made ordering passengers to stay in their cabins.
Terry and Castaneda were so nervous that the ship was sinking that they began packing a drybag of essential items until an announcement was made that the ship was going to continue moving.
The following day, it was revealed that Sheri Zhu, 62, died after she was struck by the broken glass from a shattered window. Other passengers were battered by the wave, but survived the terrifying ordeal.
The cruise ship had been making its second voyage of the trip through Drakes Passage in order to bring another passenger to a hospital. An unidentified woman had been injured during an excursion in Antarctica earlier in the day, Terry said.
Groups of passengers had been returning to the ship in Zodiac Inflatable Rescue Boats after exploring a landmass on the continent when the weather began to sour. A woman shattered her leg, the couple overheard on a crewmember’s radio, and her injuries were so severe that she required surgery.
“A helicopter couldn’t come in because of the weather and there were no other ships close to us so,” Terry said. “We were told all the other activities were canceled. My wife and I understood but we were disappointed.”
The Viking crew opted to travel back to Argentina, where the liner set sail from, despite the worsening weather. The journey through Drakes Passage had been daunting the first time through, Terry said, but was noticeably more formidable upon the second trip.
The passengers carried on with their vacations, however, confident that the cruise ship could withstand the storm.
“We went to dinner and our glass of wine slid right off the table and shattered,” Terry recalled. “People were dancing and eating and there was no thought there was a catastrophe happening.”
Castaneda and Terry had filmed the massive swells engulfing the cruise ship from their room on the third floor of the luxury liner in the hours before the chaos.
Another video taken by the couple from the ship’s yoga studio shows plenty of white water as the waves churn around the moving boat. Terry estimated that the waves, which were breaking at their window, were approximately 40 feet high.
A passenger who had been in a cabin near Zhu’s told the couple he thought he was going to die when the rogue wave struck.
“The ceiling and walls were collapsing, furniture was flying everywhere,” the man reportedly said.
Viking is still investigating the incident, it said in a statement last week.