Wednesday, July 19, 2006

 

Fifty years later, Andrea Doria survivors gather, and shudder still

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KRT Wire
By Alfred Lubrano
July 19, 2006


PHILADELPHIA - Scattered like marbles on a wax-shined dance floor, passengers aboard the 29,000-ton luxury ocean liner Andrea Doria panicked and prayed, some of them screaming "Titanic!" and "iceberg!"

The SS Stockholm, a smaller passenger liner, had rammed and cracked open the Andrea Doria in open ocean 45 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass., at 11:10 p.m., July 25, 1956.

At the time, passengers didn't know what had caused the thunderous noise and fireworks-like explosions that would sink the vessel. Forty-six people aboard the Andrea Doria were lost at sea, and five from the Stockholm.

Fifty years later, survivors still gather to speak of the night and toast their luck. This anniversary finds the wreck, known as the "Mount Everest of diving," commemorated with a book and a new PBS television documentary.

Unlike the Titanic 44 years earlier, the Andrea Doria is remembered as more of a success story than a tragedy, because enough ships were in the area of the collision to rescue survivors.

"Every year around this time, I feel everything all over again, and remember the details," says Michael Moscatiello, 65, a retired factory worker from Troy, N.Y. "I see the people drowning and crying hard. A lot of things you see, and never forget."

Though the Atlantic Ocean claimed its victims, 97 percent of the Andrea Doria's passengers and crew - 1,660 people - lived through the ordeal. In fact, everyone who had not been killed in the initial impact was taken off the boat (though three initial survivors would later die), historians say.

Booked with upper-crust travelers such as Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth and his wife, Ann (both of whom survived), the Andrea Doria was also filled with Italian immigrants coming to New York. The ship was due to dock in lower Manhattan on July 26.

"There was music, dancing and celebrating the night of the collision," says survivor Pierette Domenica Simpson, 59, an elementary-school language teacher in Michigan and author of "Alive on the Andrea Doria!"

"All of a sudden, a jolt stopped the ship, bottles from the bar fell, and it was pandemonium. My grandfather's piercing blue eyes looked like they'd seen ghosts flying. Water started filling compartments, and I was dangled by rope off the side of the boat, to lifeboats, 40 feet down."

The movie "The Poseidon Adventure," rather than "Titanic," was closer to the real thing, Simpson recalls. "In Poseidon, all the water was gushing in and everything was like a tsunami," she says. "That's how I remember it."

Enshrouded in fog, the Andrea Doria was not visible to the Stockholm, which had a young navigator on duty who may have misread the ship's radar and believed the luxury liner to be farther away than it was, historians say.

Despite the catastrophe, rescuers were mostly efficient, and calmly saved scores of lives, says survivor Dante Gallinari, 60, a real estate agent in Yonkers, N.Y.

"I was put on a rescue ship, the Ile de France," he says. "The Andrea Doria officers had said everything would be fine. It was. And we went on with our lives."

The ship has remained a draw to divers, who were already exploring the remains the day after it sank. Considered treacherous because of its depth, as well as the presence of strong currents and heavy sediment, the site has claimed numerous lives in subsequent years, including that of deep-sea diver David Bright, who died last week from decompression sickness after diving at the wreck.

Bright had been instrumental in preparing for activities surrounding the 50th anniversary, including a reunion for survivors in Kings Point, N.Y. Footage from his Andrea Doria dives - he had made more than 100, according to the Associated Press - is also included in a PBS documentary, "Secrets of the Dead: The Sinking of Andrea Doria," which airs on July 26.

Evelyn Bartram Dudas, of West Chester, Pa., who in 1967 was the first woman to dive to the wreck, says Bright was a friend who shared her love of the Andrea Doria site.

"I dived there 10 times, and each was one of the most thrilling things I've ever done," she says. "It was so huge, so white, and a special challenge because it was so deep."

Dudas' late husband, John, who dove with her, recovered the ship's main compass, now at Dudas' West Chester dive shop.

For Dudas, Bright and other divers, the Andrea Doria is buried treasure. For survivors like Moscatiello, though, the sunken boat means something else.

"You go on from that day, trying to survive," he says. "America is a beautiful country. But, oh, the problems we had getting here."


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