Explosion, deadly rogue wave endured by Topekans on Antarctic trip – The Topeka Capital-Journal


One second, Pam Trusdale was sitting in a heavy-duty inflatable boat happily taking video of penguins in Antarctica.
The next, the Topeka woman was thrown into the air by an explosion.
Two other passengers also went airborne after the blast beneath the boat’s floor.
One woman suffered a badly broken leg.
The other passenger spent perhaps two minutes in the water before he was pulled back onto the boat.
Trusdale, her husband, Tom, and the boat’s other occupants subsequently learned that the Viking Polaris, the ship on which they were taking a cruise, wasn’t capable of providing the medical attention the woman needed.
So the cruise ship headed north through gale-force winds and rough waters toward South America.
En route, it was struck by a giant rogue wave, which killed one passenger and injured four others.
Trusdale shared that account of her experiences Friday in a telephone interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal from Ushuaia, Argentina, where she and her husband were waiting to return to the United States.
“We’ve had a little bit of excitement that we hadn’t anticipated,” she said.
The trip to Antarctica was the eighth on Viking Cruise Lines for the Trusdales, who are retired and have been married for 10 years.
“We’ve seen a lot of the world,” Pam Trusdale said.
She is the widow of Col. Mike O’Toole, wing commander of the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard, who died in 2003 in a plane crash on takeoff from a private airport in northeast Shawnee County.
Pam Trusdale and their adult daughter, Shannon O’Toole Mason, survived after being hospitalized for injuries suffered in that crash.
After her husband died, Pam reconnected with Tom Trusdale, her high school sweetheart.
More:Larry and Ann Mah on trip as rescuers try to get injured woman to Argentina from Antarctica
They’ve enjoyed numerous adventures, including climbing Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
Pam Trusdale said she had been particularly excited about the couple’s cruise to Antarctica.
The Trusdales booked passage on the Viking Polaris, identified on Viking Cruise Lines’ website as a 665-foot-long cruise ship that was built this year and has the capacity to house 256 crew members and 378 guests.
“It was kind of our ‘trip of a lifetime,’” Pam Trusdale said.
Though the Trusdales hadn’t known it, others on the Antarctica cruise included Shawnee County Treasurer Larry Mah and his wife, Ann Mah, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.
The couples spent time together on the cruise, though the Mahs weren’t with the Trusdales on the excursion that turned dangerous.
The Trusdales were among three couples who made plans to ride Monday morning in a small, yellow submarine. Neither of the other couples were from Kansas.
They all got into a heavy-duty inflatable boat known as a Zodiac.
The weather was nice for Antarctica, with overcast skies and temperatures around 30 degrees, as the Zodiac’s pilot took the three couples to the area where they were to board the submarine, Pam Trusdale said.
They learned they would have to wait 20 minutes, and the driver started “cruising around,” she said.
At the time, Pam Trusdale was sitting at the front of the Zodiac, with her husband next to her.
As she was holding onto a rope attached to the boat with one hand and taking cell phone video of penguins with the other, she said, a “pretty significant explosion” took place beneath the floor between the front two passengers.
More:Topeka native Phil Norris explores Antarctica
The woman sitting directly across from Trusdale took the brunt of the impact, suffering a badly broken leg.
Another passenger on that side was thrown from the boat.
Pam Trusdale managed to hold onto her phone. She and her husband crossed over to the other side and helped to stop the boat. Tom Trusdale, another male passenger and the Zodiac pilot pulled the man back into the Zodiac on his back, Pam Trusdale said.
“Tom knew exactly what to do,” she said. “I just stayed on the floor and waited for help.”
Meanwhile, a woman who was sitting on the opposite side of the boat moved over to the side the Trusdales had been sitting on to make sure it remained balanced.
“We couldn’t have been with better people, because everyone was calm under pressure,” Pam Trusdale said. “Everything was under control.”
The Zodiac pilot responded calmly and professionally, and Viking got them all the help they needed immediately, she said.
Pam Trusdale was wearing an ankle brace Friday because of minor injuries suffered in the accident.
“It just hurts to walk, because I bruised my heel,” she said. “My left leg is worse than my right.”
Pam Trusdale said while she feels lucky to be alive, she never felt the experience was life-threatening.
“It was just scary,” she said. “It could have been so much worse.”
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation.
Ann Mah wrote on her Facebook page about the blast and its aftermath.
“They couldn’t helicopter (the woman) out in the weather, and she needs attention the boat can’t provide,” she said. “So we are headed back to Ushuaia, Argentina.”
The Drake passage, the body of water that lies between South America’s Cape Horn, Chile, and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, was mentioned in a message Larry Mah put Tuesday on his Facebook page.
“Evacuation options are limited, and the weather is deteriorating,” he said. “So, we are returning to Ushuaia (Argentina) at top speed. The Drake Channel has gale force winds (30-60 MPH) with waves 15-20 feet high. The next 600 miles is going to be a very rough ride!!”
The cruise ship was bound for Ushuaia Tuesday when it was struck during a storm by a giant “rogue wave,” which killed one person and injured four, USA Today reported.
“The rogue wave hit the side of the ship where our cabin is, but it mainly impacted Deck 2 at the front,” Trusdale said. “We were on Deck 4 at the back.”
Ann Mah said she and her husband were in bed in their room on Deck 4 at the front when the rogue wave struck.
“I understand water came in on 3, but nothing like 2,” she said. “We had furniture get knocked over in our room, but no damage.”
Viking released a statement confirming one of its guests had died.
“We have notified the guest’s family and shared our deepest sympathies,” it said, adding that four other passengers were treated for injuries that weren’t life-threatening by the ship’s onboard doctor and medical staff.
The ship “sustained limited damage during the incident,” and arrived in Ushuaia on Wednesday afternoon, Viking added.
Trusdale said she learned afterward that if they hadn’t been on the Polaris, which has “all the latest technology,” the damage from the storm could have been much worse.
The damage from the storm caused Viking Cruise Lines to abandon its initial plans to cruise along the Chilean coast for a few days, and to instead drop off all its passengers at Ushuaia.
The Trusdales and Mahs remained in Ushuaia on Friday, and it wasn’t clear when they might be able to fly back to Topeka.
Still, Pam Trusdale said Viking Cruise Lines has shown the “utmost professionalism” and done a good job of coping with what happened.
She said she trusts the company to provide a refund for the trip.
More:KU-based team conducts research in Antarctica
Pam Trusdale added that she and her husband plan to make separate future trips with Viking to Norway and the Mekong Delta, after which they’ll have traveled with that cruise line to every continent.
“This won’t slow us down,” she said.
Contact Tim Hrenchir at 785-213-5934 or threnchir@gannett.com.

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