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Photos of a couple's last minutes
February 23, 2005 4:03 PM   Subscribe

A Vancouver couple were only recently identified as victims of the Asian Tsunami. While they didn't survive, their photos of the approaching wave did. (First link includes info on how to donate to family's memorial fund.)
posted by mudpuppie (47 comments total)

 
[This is deeply unsettling.]
posted by freebird at 4:08 PM on February 23, 2005


What hath God wrought?
posted by grouse at 4:10 PM on February 23, 2005


Wow! The unsettling thing is looking at the last couple of pictures and wondering at what point the realization of the danger set in as that wave rushed at them?
posted by fenriq at 4:17 PM on February 23, 2005


Saw those this afternoon. Spooky.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 4:18 PM on February 23, 2005


"I'm not sure why they didn't run," said Patrick Knill, 28."

I'm guessing they just didn't realize how devastating the wave would be. It's hard to tell the scale from the photos, but if I saw a huge wave coming at me, I don't think I'd really realize how deadly it would be until too late.

It reminds me of the one time I was in a big earthquake: I was sure it was just a big truck driving past. By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late to even run to a door frame or under the kitchen table. Thank god there was minimal damage to my building... But if I saw a super big wave, I'd probably think it was unusual and beautiful, but the fact that it could kill me wouldn't even go through my head. I imagine it would be too surreal for me to feel danger.

And, I don't mean to be cynical, but this:

"I just picture my parents hugging each other and knowing it would happen and taking pictures."

seems an unlikely scenario.
posted by Specklet at 4:18 PM on February 23, 2005


Specklet, a monster wave washing away nearly 300,000 people's lives and an untold number of people's livelihoods seems a bit more unlikely a scenario than two people realizing that the end of their lives is at hand and taking a moment to hold each other as the wave hit them.

It may not have happened but if it helps their family sleep any better then I am all for believing it along with them.
posted by fenriq at 4:30 PM on February 23, 2005


yikes! What a striking sequence of images. I hate to sound impassive, but they have a kind of rattling beauty.

The banality of a holiday snapshot writ large.
posted by undule at 4:34 PM on February 23, 2005


It does seem difficult to get a sense of how damnably big those waves really were, especially while they were still on the horizon -- though picture #4, where the waves look like they're dwarfing the boats, gives a bit of an inkling. Chilling.
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on February 23, 2005


Wow.
posted by interrobang at 4:41 PM on February 23, 2005


Blood curdling. I'd hope that when I saw those 50 foot yachts tossed and shattered I'd run like motherfucker.

I can't help but think of Peter Wier's The Last Wave.
posted by tkchrist at 4:46 PM on February 23, 2005


I was wondering when things like this would surface in this digital world. Rather terrifying to look at the pictures and realize that last picture was the last thing they saw.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:46 PM on February 23, 2005


That's just incredible. Look at how small the person is in the second to last photo. And to think that this is the first wave cresting towards them. I probably would have done the same as them.

"The rocks will break it up before it gets to us."
posted by furtive at 4:54 PM on February 23, 2005


Waves, even big ones, are in normal experience not deadly. Waves are normally formed by wind and easily break upon the shore. Thus, it goes against all common sense and intuition to think the wave is generated by something else, a displacement of water from the movement of the earth which won't break up on the beach. It is perfectly understandable that most people did not see they were in danger until the wave was right upon them. Perhaps the only positive is that we can suppose the plight of this couple was witnessed by those further ashore who took their deaths as a warning to run away soon enough to save themselves.
posted by stbalbach at 5:04 PM on February 23, 2005


This image with the ships is terrifying.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 5:09 PM on February 23, 2005


Here's the gallery of photos, by itself.
posted by mathowie at 5:25 PM on February 23, 2005


The one that gives me the chills is this one, where someone on the beach is about to be engulfed by the massive wave bearing down on him.

Ugh, nightmare stuff.
posted by noizyboy at 5:35 PM on February 23, 2005


I'm still stunned to see that after the tide had gone SO far out (big clue, right?) people were wading out there, and NO ONE seemed to know enough to GTF out of there. Chilling and sad.
posted by psmealey at 5:50 PM on February 23, 2005


Specklet, a monster wave washing away nearly 300,000 people's lives and an untold number of people's livelihoods seems a bit more unlikely a scenario than two people realizing that the end of their lives is at hand and taking a moment to hold each other as the wave hit them. It may not have happened but if it helps their family sleep any better then I am all for believing it along with them.

It is exactly this sort of wilful ignorance that prevents lessons from being learned. Rather than clinging to false sentimentality, we should recognize our tendency to act like deer caught in headlights so that we may be better prepared to take the right course of action in the future.
posted by randomstriker at 5:50 PM on February 23, 2005


The right course of action in this case being RUN LIKE HELL.
posted by randomstriker at 5:50 PM on February 23, 2005


It's funny with pictures, you never get a true sense of scale. A wave from far away can be 2 feet or 50 feet and still look the same. But with the narrative behind it, and just knowing that that is THE wave, the one that killed hundreds of thousands, makes it almost innocent like. Calm and settling, possibly like the death itself.
posted by andrewmlin at 6:07 PM on February 23, 2005


Creepy. Thanks.
posted by beth at 6:11 PM on February 23, 2005


Does anyone have links to higher-resolution copies of these?
posted by odinsdream at 6:13 PM on February 23, 2005


Waves, even big ones, are in normal experience not deadly.

Have to disagree with you, there. Even leaving aside the many that have been swallowed up by the waves while out at sea, walking out on the beach during a storm has swept many souls to their death.

True enough that waves as big as this are not normal experience even for those who see the ocean every day. I think someone who knows the ocean would be running away very quickly when the water level quickly dropped like that. But normal-size big waves move very fast; bigger they are, the faster they go. I don't know if anyone near enough to see how big it was would have much chance to out-run this one. Google tells me it would have slowed down as it got close to shore, but still been doing something like 40mph when it hit the beach.
posted by sfenders at 6:26 PM on February 23, 2005


Those pictures are wild. I have relatives who were honeymooning at Khao Lak when the tsunamis hit, and this looks just how they described it. They noticed the tide go way out, but didn't think much of it (they are German, and it is supposedly not uncommon to have really low tides in the North Sea). Then they saw what looked like a mountain ridge off in the distance. As it got closer, they realized it was a wave. He wasn't worried and wanted to finish breakfast, but she freaked and insisted they run. Luckily they were near a hill, which they ran up as the wave broke behind them. They stayed up on the hill for hours, and when they returned everything was gone. I don't know whether to forward this link to them or not...
posted by nixxon at 6:43 PM on February 23, 2005



Waves, even big ones, are in normal experience not deadly. Waves are normally formed by wind and easily break upon the shore. Thus, it goes against all common sense and intuition to think the wave is generated by something else, a displacement of water from the movement of the earth which won't break up on the beach. It is perfectly understandable that most people did not see they were in danger until the wave was right upon them. Perhaps the only positive is that we can suppose the plight of this couple was witnessed by those further ashore who took their deaths as a warning to run away soon enough to save themselves.


Good point - I'm sure bigger waves actually reach the shores of places like Hawaii....but of course they don't have the power behind them like the tsunami wave so they just break up rather than go 2km inland.

When you see such a tsunami wave from 1km off-shore, you might not really give it the attention it deserves simply because you can't believe such a white strip of foam can cause any amount of destruction - you might think its just the wind blowing around or something....of course, until it's too late.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 6:44 PM on February 23, 2005


Ugh, those are terrifying. Partly because they look so beautiful... there is no storm, the sky isn't burning red, there aren't signs of doom anywhere... it's just a sunny day, and there's a wave way out in the ocean which you may or may not notice, and then when you do see it, you may or may not realize how big it is, and then- too late.

That chills me to my core.

A lot of us who think we'd have run like hell assume that people at the beach are staring at the waves the whole time, with a calculating eye. C'mon- we aren't. With the benefit of hindsight, yes, it's obvious and horrific, but on a lazy afternoon at the beach, I'm sure I wouldn't have known what was going on until far too late.
posted by BoringPostcards at 6:45 PM on February 23, 2005


two people realizing that the end of their lives is at hand and taking a moment to hold each other as the wave hit them

Unfortunately, that's not what usually happens in a tsunami. What usually goes through the victims minds is more like this (for victims on land):

1. "Hey look. Water rising."
2. "Water still rising."
3. "Woah, water rising really high. Need to get to higher land."
4. "Shit! So much water that there's random debris and cars being picked up and oh shit..."

The sad truth is, a good portion of the deaths were caused by the slow, unrelenting bigness of the ocean. Your fight or flight instinct doesn't get triggered until you're either being swept casually down a street, with tons of debris surrounding/impaling you, or you're being swept away from the shore, with the hopeful expectation that the waves will just carry you back again.

If you look at some of the home videos of vacationers staying on the beaches, you notice they're far too casual about the rising water levels. When you have ocean in your hotel room, the correct behavior should be to run like a madman, not film it with your camera. Most people just don't realize that there's a shitload of water behind that wave.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:52 PM on February 23, 2005


If it were my family, I'd prefer to believe they had no idea what was upon them - false sentimentality or no. Truly chilling photos.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:05 PM on February 23, 2005


I've been looking and looking at them and just am not chilled at all. The one noizyboy linked to, especially. Yes, it looks much bigger than the man in the frame ... but all my experience of waves doesn't have this wall of water continuing in to land that size, it has it breaking on the shore like the countless thousands of waves I've seen before. I just can't shake the mental training of "waves get smaller, dissipate" even though I know what happens next in this case

I'd be so dead in a tsunami. Stubborn mind.
posted by bonaldi at 7:20 PM on February 23, 2005


Having had plans to be on a beach near Phuket (Kao Lak) two days after the Tsunami hit, I can't help but consider (over and over) what I would have done had I been in the same situation as the thousands that perished. I'd like to think that after learning about tsunamis in my High School Oceanograpy class I would have realized what was happening as soon as the water started receding, but I'm not sure I would have really been paying enough attention while lounging in the sand on holiday. Being in Thailand for several weeks following the disaster we met a lot of folks that were in Phuket when the tsunami hit and most, if not all, of them stated that they weren't scared until they realized the water wasn't going to stop coming.
posted by shoepal at 7:49 PM on February 23, 2005


randomstriker, I would bet just about any amount of money that the three kids that were orphaned by the wave, the parents whose pics these are, I don't think they'll ever be in a situation like the one that killed their parents. They don't really need the lesson of the tsunami, it's already schooled them. So, for them, I am happy to believe in the illusory image of their parents dying together.

Its much easier to accept than the reality of their deaths as it must have been. So, very, very sorry for not trying to make sure everyone learned the lesson of the water that goes away and comes back really, really hard. But hey, part of the lesson is compassion for those that lost their lives and those that have been left behind, like their three kids.

Yes, more people could have been saved if more people had known what was actually going on. But, even with the perfect course of action, people would have still died.

Am I saying that people should not try to save themselves when faced with a situation like this? Hell no. Don't be stupid. That the disaster and the reactions to it shouldn't be scrutinized? No, again, don't be stupid.

Not everyone who saw the wave stood and watched it, some people starting moving the second they saw it, some took a little longer to get going. I'd imagine that just about everyone turned and ran. Some made it, an awful lot didn't.
posted by fenriq at 7:53 PM on February 23, 2005


Chilling sequence of images!
posted by ericb at 8:00 PM on February 23, 2005


I think I have posted this in MeFi before. .I grew up one house away from the beach in So Cal.

The first two "tidal wave" warnings, we went to friends' houses on higher ground. The waves never came. Subsequently, we either ignored the warnings or paddled out to catch the wave.

Better to be lucky than smart. I have to concur with the other posters that I probably would have died also, out of curiosity or ignorance. . .with no warning. . you just don't register something that is outside of your experience. . .
posted by Danf at 8:36 PM on February 23, 2005


Long before this tsunami, I lived offshore in a picturesque Caribbean island for a few years. Within a month (maybe even sooner) of moving to the island and becoming friends with locals (both those who had chosen to live on the island 20+ years, and those whose family had been there many generations) I was told (warned) about the famous tsunami of 1867. In the story, as the tide dramatically receded, the villagers saw fish flopping on the exposed sea bed. Not believing their bizarre, albeit "good" fortune, they rushed out to scoop up the bounty. The story (as told to me repeatedly, by different folks) was that this "free-get-as-many-flopping-fish-as-you-can" state of receded waters lasted ten to fifteen minutes. Of course, then came the tsunami which killed most of those who had rushed out to get the fish.

Since then, I have always been a bit awed by the strength and endurance of this oral history 130+ years later. Certainly, the story was told as an object lesson in tsunami survival skills. And, the drama of the tale, with its flopping fish images, insured that I was not soon to forget what to do if I saw the ocean withdraw from the shore.

From the first news stories of this tsunami I have been so perplexed as to why there was no similar oral tradition there. A few of my friends have speculated that it is because a tsunami is more common in the Caribbean. But an event that is once every hundred or two hundred years doesn't seem to qualify as "often enough" to explain this difference.
posted by wtfwjd? at 9:02 PM on February 23, 2005


i knew that the ocean recedes right before something like this happens ... i'd have been running

although, you know ... we're assuming there was someplace to run to
posted by pyramid termite at 5:39 AM on February 24, 2005


I was trying to find out how long before the wave hits the water would recede from the beach ("five to ten minutes"), and found this:

According to a Japanese folktale, a venerable grandfather who owned a rice field at the top of a hill felt the sharp jolt of an Earth tremor one day just before the harvest. From his hilltop vantage point, he saw the sea pull back from the shore. Curious villagers rushed out to explore the exposed tidal flats and collect shellfish...
posted by sfenders at 5:48 AM on February 24, 2005


The trick is to live and learn.

Tsunami: run for high ground when the water retreats.
9/11: go down not up in highrise fire - ignore those who tell you not to.
Iraq: free tuition is never free.

General Lessons: Always wear shoes you can run in.
posted by srboisvert at 6:08 AM on February 24, 2005


In one future version of the folk tale, in Thailand, it's going to be a 10-year-old girl instead of a venerable grandfather. Girl, 10, saved hundreds of lives

"Last term Mr Kearney taught us about earthquakes and how they can cause tsunamis," Tilly was quoted as saying by The Sun. "I was on the beach and the water started to go funny. There were bubbles and the tide went out all of a sudden. "I recognised what was happening and had a feeling there was going to be a tsunami. I told mummy."

Her intuition was enough to raise the alert and prompt the evacuation of Phuket's Maikhao beach and a neighbouring hotel before the water came crashing in, saving hundreds of people from death and injury.

posted by sfenders at 6:11 AM on February 24, 2005


wtfwjd? 's story reminds me of my mum saying "theres no such thing as a free dinner" and is remarkably reminiscent of a moral/bible type story.
posted by 13twelve at 7:23 AM on February 24, 2005


I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I do not know what I would have done in this case. Being a lifelong landlubber, knowledge like this just isn't in my information set. I also don't know how to avoid jellyfish or stingrays (?), I just fear them the entire time I'm in the water.

I identify strongly with the people above who say they would have just expected the wave to expend itself on the shore. I would have too. That's if I could have my attention taken away from the music in my headphones and the parades of women in bikinis. I'm being honest at least.

I think my biggest concern might have been a very "stretchy" wave that might have gotten my stuff all wet several feet from the water's edge.

I'm not sure, at all, that I would have recognized the danger until it was too late.

I would however recognize it now.

In truth, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to visit a shoreline again and not keep a vigilant eye out at the horizon and constantly observe tide levels.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:27 AM on February 24, 2005


I would bet just about any amount of money that the three kids that were orphaned by the wave

Kids?? Orphaned???

From the article:
When the Seattle man returned home he downloaded the images, recognized the couple's image from a missing-persons website and contacted the youngest of the Knills' three sons, David, 25.
But then, we shouldn't let actual facts get in the way of how we prefer to think of the story.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2005


DevilsAdvocate, the three children of the Knill's no longer have parents, right? That means they're orphaned.

How is that hard to understand?

They had parents before the tsunami, they don't have living parents now. They've been orphaned by the tsunami.

How is that not letting actual facts get in the way of the story?
posted by fenriq at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2005


thanks. these are the first pictures i've seen which put the enormity of the tsunami into perspective.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:18 PM on February 24, 2005


DevilsAdvocate, the three children of the Knill's no longer have parents, right? That means they're orphaned.

My father's parents are both dead. My paternal grandfather died when my father was 48. I don't consider my father an orphan, he doesn't consider himself an orphan, and your attempt to define orphan as "anyone whose parents are dead, regardless of age" is not consistent with common English usage of the term.

But you don't have to take my word for it.
1 : a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:39 PM on February 24, 2005


Great story, wtfwjd?.
posted by interrobang at 5:17 PM on February 24, 2005


DevilsAdvocate, I was operating under the impression that the sons were in their teens, I'd clicked the second link and not the first that gave their ages.

My bad. I owe you a beer.
posted by fenriq at 11:56 PM on February 24, 2005


I imagine most people killed weren't on the beach. Most people were on a street corner or on the first floor of a building. One second everything is fine and the next they are under water or being swept down the street.
posted by Justin Case at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2005


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