'It’s not an occurrence here' Captain stunned after hearing wave hits whale-watching boat

Posted at 12:42 AM, Feb 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-23 06:44:41-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- A whale-watching boat was hit Saturday morning by a wave as tall as the boat as it exited Rudee Inlet. The boat, operated by the Virginia Aquarium, carried 124 people, four of whom were hospitalized with minor injuries.

The aquarium said in a statement, the boat's captain managed to bring the boat back safely to the Virginia Beach Fishing Center where emergency crews responded.

It was a situation Rusty Harris, a fishing tour captain, said is rare around the inlet.

"This is the first time that something like this has happened," Harris said. "It’s not an occurrence here."

Harris oversaw a 12-hour fishing tour with 40 fishing enthusiast that same day. His tour group departed after 4:00 a.m. the same day and heard about the incident when they reached the shore.

"Apparently it got caught in between swells going out of the inlet," he said. "The wave coming over the boat, knocking people down, hurting people -- also, when the boat dropped after the wave, you could see people coming up off the deck because the boat dropped so fast."

Rusty Harris has been a boat captain for 35 years and has overseen fishing tours in and out of the inlet. He said he is glad the situation was not worse.

He added if it happened to him and his boat, he is prepared.

"We’ve got lifeboats, life jackets for everybody on board. And the crew, a qualified crew that knows life-saving," Harris said. "We have drills the Coast Guard makes us go through."

Though rare, Harris added that, "It’s the Atlantic Ocean, it’ll throw you a curve ball."