When Nature Strikes Back: Freak Waves (key art)A series of documentary specials about natural disasters around the world, not only featuring new and spectacular footage, but also focusing on the incredible human interest stories behind these catastrophes.

“There is something incredible outside, and it hits like the fist of God, without warning and without mercy.”

Stories told by seamen about walls of water high as 10-story buildings, destroying even big cargo ships, were treated as fanciful myths. But in fact they do exist, these real monsters of the sea. Scientists have recently produced the proof.  Over two hundred ships have been victims of freak waves in the past two decades. In the North Atlantic alone, between 1995 and 1999, 27 big vessels foundered after being hit by freak waves.

There are only few who saw them and are still alive — eyewitnesses who escaped the force of the giant waves are telling their story. Scientists and technicians demonstrate how waves as high as 35 meters (over 100 feet) can come into existence, seemingly out of nowhere. When faster waves hit others moving slower, a giant wall of water can be built up. After reaching 35 to 40 meters the rules of physics force these monsters to break. “It was like crashing against the cliffs of Dover,” Captain Ronald Warwick describes his date with a freak wave in the North Atlantic.

Four men are earning a living, fishing with a “fair wind” in the North Atlantic. In November 1980 their Canadian trawler is facing a severe gale. After a freak wave destroyed the ship, three of the four fishermen disappeared in the ocean. Ernest Hazard, who was been saved by a helicopter, lives to tell their story.

The last journey of cargo ship “Flare”
On the night of January 16th, 1998: The crew of this 181-meter long freighter are not afraid of the impending winter storm on their trip from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. Then a giant wave hits the hull. “We heard a loud bang and felt the vibration.”  Four hours later the next wall out of water fractured the big vessel in half. As the deck was covered with ice the crew could not free the rescue boat. Only three managed to reach the small life raft and survived.

The Story of the Ocean Liner “Bremen”
February 2001. The German passenger ship with 137 passengers is cruising in the Southern Atlantic. Members of the crew are telling how the unbelievable happened. “As all hell brakes loose the sea seemed to boil. Then a wall of water appeared and crashed into the edge of our ship”.  After  several minutes in a dangerous sloping position the liner regains its equilibrium. As the lucky survivors reach Argentina they could measure the dimension of the wave: The severe damage reached 35 meters on the Bremen´s hull.

“The ships are sinking before the people realize what had happened,” said Wolfgang Löwenthal, coordinator of the international research program Max Wave. Löwenthal explains for us what crews must expect.  Trials in the large indoor wave pools of the University of Hannover in Germany give evidence that one freak wave can break a super oil-tanker. Researcher Günther Clauss: “Our experiments have proven that giant waves simply follow the rules of physics.”  Radar warning systems are of little help; when freak waves can be identified on radar there are only 50 seconds left. Ship designers like Douglas Faulkner are studying how a hull must be constructed to survive. Others are looking for improved radar-techniques to build earlier advance warning systems.


LENGTH: 1 x 50 Minutes
FORMAT: Special
CAMERA: Betacam
SUPPLIER: Langbein & Skalnik Media