SYDNEY – Australians on a high cliff watched helplessly Wednesday as a wooden boat smuggling as many as 100 refugees was smashed against the jagged rocks by monstrous waves, dumping screaming men, women and children into the stormy surf. At least 28 people died and 44 were rescued. Eleven of those saved were children.

The deaths off Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory, underscored the dangers faced by hundreds of refugees who have tried to sail from Indonesia to Australia in recent years — often in cramped, barely seaworthy boats.

The boat was about 20 to 30 feet long, with a cabin covered by a sheet of fabric or plastic.

Rescuers were returning today hunt for survivors, though conditions were still dangerous as a cyclone hovered northwest of the island.