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'Unbelievable': Springettsbury woman describes deadly rogue wave hitting cruise ship

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

Linda Just made it a goal in life to visit all seven continents.

Last week, the Springettsbury Township woman was nearing the end of that list — No. 7, Antarctica — when the cruise ship she and friend Cheryl Gerhart were on was caught in what authorities called a "rogue wave incident."

Just said the wave struck the Viking Polaris around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 29. Earlier in the evening, the women had been observing the rough waters through their cabin window. 

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“We had had our whole window open, taking photos of the waves because they were so high,” she said. “It was really, really rough water, and the waves were really high.” 

Linda Just of Springettsbury Township seen aboard the Viking Polaris last week. The Viking Polaris was struck by a rogue wave that damaged the ship and killed a passenger.

After about half an hour of taking pictures of the waves, they closed their cabin window and went to bed. Just and Gerhart were reading when the rogue wave rocked the ship.

The incident left one American passenger, 62-year-old Sheri Zhu, dead and four others injured. Zhu was struck by broken glass when the wave broke cabin windows on the ship. The Viking Polaris, a vessel that has luxury facilities and was built in 2022, has capacity for 378 passengers and 256 crew members.

At the time, the ship was heading back to Ushuaia, Argentina, where the cruise originated. The ship was heading back earlier than scheduled because a passenger had been severely injured on a Zodiac boat that had taken some passengers on an excursion into Antarctic waters, Just said. They were told the injured passenger needed more medical attention than could be provided on the ship, so they returned to Argentina, she added. 

Cheryl Gerhart of Springettsbury Township aboard the Viking Polaris last week. Gerhart and friend, Linda Just, were aboard the ship when it was struck by a rogue wave last week that damaged the ship and killed a passenger.

Large and unpredictable: Rogue waves are defined as waves greater than twice the size of surrounding waves. They are unpredictable, and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves. 

“All of a sudden, there was this horrendous noise. I can’t even describe the noise,” Just said. “It was so loud, it was unbelievable. I felt the ship go down a little bit and come back up a little bit — not much — and rolled a little bit to the side — but not much — and that was the end of it.” 

The two weren’t sure what happened at the time. They thought perhaps the ship had hit either an iceberg or a whale.

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“I think it was a wave,” Gerhart then told Just.

“We were never frightened,” Just said. “We really thought we were being cared for properly and that there was no danger to us. We were OK, fortunately, but it was quite an adventure.” 

Hit by two waves: It wasn’t until the next morning that they learned about the rogue wave. They were told there were actually two waves that hit the ship, one was estimated at around 40 feet high and the second was between 70 and 85 feet high, Just said. 

It wasn’t until two days later that they found out a person had died as a result of the wave hitting the ship. Crew members told them 19 cabins were damaged by the wave’s impact, Just said. 

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Shortly after that, they were told the rest of the Antarctic cruise was cancelled and all the passengers were going home. 

“Viking did absolutely everything to keep us safe," Just said. "They were pretty good at keeping us informed about what was going on. They made arrangements for all of us to go back to Buenos Aires and stay in hotels.” 

The Viking Polaris, seen in a promotion photo from Viking Cruises.

Viking also issued all passengers full refunds after the harrowing trip, Just said. 

Just and Gerhart returned to York County on Monday. 

“I did make my goal. I have done all seven continents now,” she said. “But I don’t care to go back again” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.