Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria

Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria by Richard Goldstein told the story of the sinking of the Italian ocean liner after it was rammed by the bow of the Swedish liner Stockholm off Nantucket in July 1956. The author selected several passengers and families and told their stories on what would be the ship’s final voyage. Goldstein enabled the reader to travel aboard each of the ships and relive their journeys both before and after the collision. I could not put this book down, although more photographs would have enhanced the read. Nevertheless the pages of solid text kept my attention riveted.

Thankfully there was time to save 1663 passengers yet 46 perished in the collision, including three-year-old Norma Di Sandro, who fell into a coma after hitting her head on the side of a lifeboat when her father threw her overboard in a panic. The reader kept a vigil for Norma and always hoped that she would recover but the news of her death was heartbreaking. Her father Tullio would have to deal with the guilt but the panic was real, as seen in this frightful rescue attempt:

“[Stockholm senior second officer] Enestrom’s lifeboat–the first to arrive from the Stockholm–glided toward the Doria‘s aft section, where ropes and a large, wide cargo net hung from the lowest deck, passengers crowded above them calling for help. Enestrom’s crewmen grasped the lower part of the netting, keeping it flush against the Doria‘s hull, and Enestrom shouted in English for the people to hurry. Passengers started to come down, but some were kicked off the netting and driven into the water by others above them frantic to be first into the lifeboat.”

Heavy fogged mixed with inattentive crews–and, in my opinion, sailor ennui–led to the collision which also saw the loss of five lives aboard the Stockholm. The majority of the book dealt with the rescue efforts, thus the title of this book is accurate. Several ships in the area came to the rescue, including the Stockholm, who despite its sheared bow was still seaworthy. I finally got to read the story of Linda Morgan and Jeanette Carlin, two Doria passengers who were swept from their beds and found among the mangled wreckage of the Stockholm’s bow. Unfortunately Carlin died shortly afterward but Morgan survived, and was dubbed the “miracle girl” by the press.

Scrabble saved the lives of three priests:

“The two priests were finishing dinner, expecting to turn in early, when they were greeted by Father Paul Lambert, a priest from Pennsylvania, known by now to Father Wojcik as ‘a Scrabble nut.’ The three priests had played Scrabble during the trip, and now Father Lambert urged them on for one more game. Instead of going back to their cabin, Father Wojcik and Father Dolciamore went with Father Lambert to the card room outside the Belvedere Lounge for a final test of Scrabble wits.”

Had they not played this final game and returned to their rooms, they would have been in a direct line with the collision site, and may have all been killed.

I enjoyed this story of rescue–the aftermath of legalities and assigning blame was kept to a minimum–and have embarked on another book about this glamorous ocean liner.

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