Badger’s trembling before the blast had alarmed William Swanson, made him stare through summer dusk up Lituya Bay, where the sound had originated. With his wife, he’d just visited Cenotaph Island halfway up the seven-mile-long, fish-shaped fjord indenting the Panhandle’s Lost Coast.
At 10:16 p.m., they lay anchored inside the mouth, in a cove behind La Chaussee Spit. Swanson, frozen in disbelief in the pilothouse, noticed Lituya Glacier had “risen in the air and moved forward so it was in sight,” still apparently solid but “jumping and shaking.” Then a wall roaring seaward razed opposite shores two miles apart. It combed Cenotaph and, five minutes after the big bang, grabbed Badger, lifting the 40-foot troller, surfing it like a giant’s Malibu shortboard, but stern-first, across the spit. From near the crest, Swanson saw treetops two boat-lengths below.
This mega-tsunami—none had been witnessed up to that day, July 9, 1958—the tallest wave ever known, crashed thunderously beyond La Chaussee, hurling spruce missiles, breaking Badger and four of Bill’s ribs. Fellow fishermen rescued the Swansons who, in underwear, had abandoned ship in a skiff. Another couple vanished with Sunmore at the entrance, leaving only an oil slick. A third, father-and-son party aboard Edrie rode spumed mayhem that busted their anchor chain. Avalanching had announced a wave-top two road lanes wide, which passed beneath them.