Yavit, a Swedish tourist known only as Olsen, and a second dive master known only as Erik. Kim and Wachs had with them the bare essentials for their dive as well as a camera and a wallet containing some cash and credit cards. Their passports, airplane tickets, and other belongings were back in their bungalow at the Koh Phi Phi Cabana Hotel. The dive boat headed northwest to the first dive spot, a wrecked interisland catamaran ferry 280 feet long known as the King Cruiser. It had run aground on Anemone Reef in 1997 and now sat on the reef in water 98 to 115 feet deep.

As Kim, Wachs, and the others were boarding their dive boat, approximately 310 nautical miles southwest as the dolphin swims, deep in the ocean along the Sunda trench, the seafloor ruptured—the Burma Plate on the east side rising as the Indian Plate on the west side pushed below it. The fault break propagated rapidly northwest toward the Nicobar Islands, moving at a variable speed later estimated to average 62 miles per minute. Within three minutes it traveled the 180 miles to reach Great Channel, the body of water that separates Banda Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, from Great Nicobar Island.

As the dive boat prepared to leave the dock at around 8:15 A.M., the first tsunami waves hit Indonesia. Waves as high as 49 feet virtually obliterated Banda Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra. As the fault movement propagated north, new waves were produced. No longer blocked by the Sumatra mainland, these waves had nothing but 300 nautical miles of the open waters of the Andaman Sea between them and Thailand’s west coast and jewel-like offshore islands. The new waves, generated as the fault break propagated north, were accompanied by earlier waves that diffracted around the northern tip of Sumatra to hit Thailand and streamed down the Strait of Malacca to hit Malaysia. In the shallower waters of the Andaman Sea, the waves slowed to perhaps 174 knots.

Meanwhile, the dive boat headed northwest, unaware of the cataclysmic sea change bearing down on it. Around 10:00 A.M. the dive boat reached the buoy that marked the site of the wreck and the divers entered the water, dropping beneath the surface along the line attaching the buoy to the wreck. The dive boat—the two crew relaxing on board—drifted on the still waters above the wreck.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement