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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Whale wrecks family's sailing trip
The Johnsons' boat after the whale attack
The whale caught itself on the boat's rigging
A family has told how their sailing "holiday of a lifetime" was wrecked when a 30-foot whale jumped out of the ocean and landed on their boat.

The Johnson family from Coventry believe they are lucky to have survived the incident which happened off the east coast of Australia during a family holiday.

The humpback whale - one of the world's largest mammals - crashed onto the boat's deck taking its 40-foot mast and rigging with it and destroying a safety rail.

Trevor and Mary Johnson, of Cheylsemore, were sailing with their sons Anthony, 24, Mark, 27, and Mark's girlfriend Helen Wilkinson, also 24.

The family had just begun a 10-day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands off the Australian mainland after chartering a boat.

Mrs Johnson said: "The whale came onto the boat right above me and if I had put my head up at that moment it would have hit me."

I was very, very shocked - it was very scary
Mark Johnson
"We were all absolutely panic-stricken because we didn't know whether the boat might sink."

Mrs Johnson described how the mast was ripped from the vessel as the beast returned to the water and the boat's radio was knocked out.

Mark Johnson, Earlsdon, said: "There was a bang and a thud, and a whale came about 12 ft out of the water and slid down the port side.

"It took all the rigging with it and when it came level with where we were it let out a long, eerie groan.

"My brother pushed himself away from the whale, because we didn't know if it might fall our way.

"It was shedding barnacles from its tummy and caught itself on the rigging.

"I was very, very shocked - it was very scary."

Mr Johnson, 61, a special school teacher, said he was below deck during the family "holiday of a lifetime" when the whale made its impromptu appearance.

He said: "I heard this almighty groan and bang and came up on board and the first thing I thought was how sunny it was because the mast had been blocking out the sunlight.

"This was literally a life-threatening situation. We were 10 miles out to sea and had no equipment to radio for help."

Trevor and Mary Johnson
Trevor and Mary Johnson feared for their lives

The rest of the family had travelled to Australia to visit Anthony who is working in Sydney, New South Wales.

He managed to raise help on his mobile phone and an hour and a half later another boat arrived to tow them back to shore.

Mr Johnson said: "It was just so lucky my son had his mobile telephone with him because we would have drifted onto another island and would have had to abandon ship.

"We had a dinghy and could have got to a bay on the island but what we would have done then I don't know.

"We are so, so lucky."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Peter Lane
"It was supposed to be holiday of a lifetime"



SEE ALSO:
Yacht pair in big trouble
14 Aug 03  |  Cornwall
Whale caught up in fishing net
04 Aug 03  |  South West Wales
Whales bring feel-good factor
10 Aug 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent



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