Man Whacked by Whale Will Continue to Dive

ByABC News via via logo

March 11, 2007 — -- A snorkeler struck by a whale's tail after bumping into her calf says that he will continue to dive.

"This was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives," Randy Thornton told "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" in an exclusive interview.

Thornton believes that the experience was a "weird freak accident" and it's not likely to happen to anyone else.

For two months each year, divers in the waters off the Dominican Republic enter an area of ocean where Atlantic humpback whales give birth to their new calves. Divers swim within feet of the giant creatures without any problem.

But in the last hour on the last day of Randy and Gwen Thornton's group's dive trip, they swam around a coral reef and saw a mother and her calf were sleeping.

A current moved the couple closer to the whales than they intended; at that moment the calf surfaced.

Bridgette Server, who was snorkeling with the group, rolled her underwater camera as her diving partners swam closer to the pair.

"They were basically touching the whale," Server said. "The current was pushing them into the whale."

"The mother decided it was time to bring the calf to the surface to the air to breathe," Randy said. "The calf was spooked, which spooked the mother."

The whale flipped her tail twice. One flip sent Randy's wife Gwen sailing 20 feet, while Randy broke his leg.

Still, Randy contends that he wasn't panicked.

"It wasn't necessarily a sense of panic, but of concern. … We knew were way too close," he said. "It all happened so quickly, we just couldn't get out of the way quick enough.

"It was kind of like being hit by a freight train," he added. "I thought for a minute that maybe my leg was missing."

The other divers said the whale's movement caused quite a stir in the water.

"It seemed to create kind of a tornado type feeling in the water, where it just started moving people and pulling people down under the water," said Jennefer Free.

Another diver, Server's mother, was knocked unconscious.

The group made a splint out of fins and a weight belt and got Randy into a dingy and then onto the ship. Nine and a half hours later, the group made it to land.

Before returning to the United States, Randy had surgery in a primitive operating room, where doctors used a hacksaw and a drill on his broken femur.

"I had an epidural, so I was awake the entire three-and-a-half hours of the surgery," he said. "Fortunately the surgery was performed fairly skillfully. … The cleanliness was not happening."

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