Family survives to tell how 10-ton whale crashed on to boat

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The Johnson family of Coventry had been told to look out for the occasional whale when they chartered the £150,000 boat for a 10-day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands off the east coast of Australia.

But they hadn't quite bargained for a scene straight out of Moby Dick which left them to contend with a 30ft humpback whale leaping out of the ocean and crashing on to their boat.

The whale, weighing around 10 tons, knocked the boat's 40ft mast into the water with an "earth-shattering" thud, before swimming off, leaving a trail of barnacles on board.

"It's amazing that no one was hurt or killed," said Trevor Johnson, a 61-year-old teacher from Coventry.

Mr Johnson, his wife, Mary, their two sons Anthony, 24, and Mark, 27, and Mark's girlfriend, Helen Wilkinson, 24, had had been told of occasional whale sightings, but only 10 miles into their journey, the humpback whale - one of the largest creatures in the sea - launched itself at the boat.

"There was a bang and a thud, and a whale came about 12ft out of the water and slid down the port side," Mark said. "It took all the rigging with it and when it came level with where we were, it let out a long, eerie groan. It was shedding barnacles from its tummy ... I was very, very shocked."

The whale disappeared but the family remained stranded at sea as a result of the "earth shattering" incident during which the radio crashed to the floor. After drifting for more than 90 minutes, the family called for help. The only minor injury sustained was to Helen's head.