The rumbling shook the sleeping boy’s father from his fading half-sleep on the berth of their single-masted sailing boat. Bolting up and looking out the window, his eyes widened as he saw the still waters of the Alaskan inlet churn and rise into a monstrous, debris-strewn wave, easily fifty feet in height and heading straight toward their tiny craft. The father tossed a life preserver at the groggy boy and said, “Son, start praying.”
On Saturday, July 25, 1959, USMC Lt. Col. William Rankin and Lt. Herbert Nolan of the US Navy, flying from Weymouth Naval Air Station in Massachusetts to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, encountered an unusually high cumulonimbus cloud, or ‘thunderhead’. As experienced pilots, Rankin and Nolan both knew the unmistakable dangers of the tall, powerful storm clouds; their classic anvil shape and furious natures are commonly associated with pounding rains, destructive winds, and tornadoes. However, having previously confirmed with meteorologists that there was no frontal activity in the area, the two pilots climbed up to 48,000 feet to fly over the isolated storm.