Asbury Park, NJ The SS MORRO CASTLE Disaster, Sep 1934
BELIEVE 251 LIVES ARE LOST IN SHIP BLAZE.
VICTIMS TRAPPED AS BLAZING OIL ENVELOPES THEM.
558 PASSENGERS AND CREW LISTED ON VESSEL; 30 BODIES REPORTED WASHED ASHORE; 185 LANDED SAFELY ON BEACH.
Spring Lake, N. J. -- Fire destroyed the luxurious liner Morro Castle today in the storm washed coastal reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, a bare eight miles off the Jersey shore at Asbury Park with heavy loss of life.
Hours after the first broken SOS stuttered out to the sleeping world, 251 of the liner's 558 passengers and crew were dead or unaccounted for. Thirty three bodies were recovered at Manasquan, N.J., and 17 were washed ashore at Point Pleasant.
Navy headquarters set at 185 the number of survivors who were landed safely or washed ashore on the Jersey beach.
A wireless message, received at coast guard headquarters in Washington from the cutter, Tampa, said 360 persons "out of 503 aboard" the vessel were accounted for as alive. It could not be determined definitely here how many were brought to the beaches.
The crack Furness liner, Monarch of Bermuda, which raced full speed through the rain-whipped dawn to the Morro Castle's side brought 70 living and one dead into New York. Many of the living were in a dying condition.
The Andrea F. Luckenbach which also reached the blazing liner's side in time, carried 22 persons to New York, where they were rushed to many hospitals, through police cleared streets.
100 In Hospitals.
A special train left for Asbury Park shortly before noon to bring back to hospitals 100 of the survivors on the beach -- all of them members of the crew, save five women and three men.
Marine observers at Sandy Hook and National Buard aerial observers reported many bodies floating in the sea, Governor A. Harry Moore, of New Jersey, who flew over the smoke-palled scene, reported sighting more than 100 persons in the water and said many were dead.
The cause of the fire has not been determined. There were reports the ship had been struck by lightning and that the flames spread to the huge oil tanks of the liner, causing them to leap through the ship with fearful speed. Other reports said the fire started in the library in the forepart of the boat.
Seventeen bodies came ashore at Point Pleasant, indicating that many of those sighted in the water were dead.
Start Towing Ship.
A fleet of coast guard vessels -- any of which battled raging surfs in the morning storms -- managed to get a line on the smouldering hulk of the 11-ton liner and began the slow painful job of towing it up the coast to New York.
Ward Line tugs sped down the bay to assist and hurry the work in the face of new storm warnings flying along the coast.
As authorities began to corelate incoherent accounts of one of the worst peace time marine disasters, they were told by members of the crew of the Morro Castle that more than 200 passengers died because they refused to enter life boats.
Tales related by passengers and crew were those of horror and heroism but in the account of the crew tragic overtones were of passengers fighting attempts to place them in boats.
Seamen who once were curtly ordered to stop talking by surviving officers said all of the passengers could have been saved if they had followed orders.
"They refused to go through the smoke and flames," related ELROY KELSEY, a seaman of Albany, N. Y.
"We pleaded with them, we tried to herd them, but few of them would go. Many even tried to fight past us and get back down the ladder to the lower decks. Finally we were forced to take to the boats without them as the sparks and embers were burning the ropes."
KELSEY said the crew succeeded in getting all passengers on deck although a seaman said the wall of flame surrounding the superstructure of the vessel prevented the seamen from getting to cabins on the lower decks. Twenty-five members of the crew interviewed separtely verified KELSEY'S story.
Scotland Lightship by which the Morro Castle fixed its position in the SOS, is famous as New York harbor's welcome to ships from the South. It is three miles off Sandy Hook.
Spring Lake, N.J. -- Fire, terror of the sea, swept the passenger liner Morro Castle in the storm shrouded darkness just at dawn today barely eight miles off-shore from Asbury Park, N. J.
Five and one-half hours later more than 300 of the 558 passengers and crew were unaccounted for.
"SOS -- Morro Castle afire off Scotland light ---"
The first frantic "SOS" was picked up at 3:23 EST. So swiftly did the roaring flames envelope the vessel, with its 318 sleeping passengers enroute home to New York after a 7-day excursion to Havana, that the ship soon was aflame from stem to stern.
About 250 Rescued.
Shortly after 10 A.M. EST, fewer than 250 survivors had been landed or picked up by nearby steamers racing to the rescue.
Bodies were visible in the water off the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J. Surf boats from the coast guard stations along the Jersey shore pushed through the heavy seas in search of survivors.
The blaze started apparently in the library, according to some of the members of the crew reaching shore in a life boat. It spread to the great tanks of fuel oil and enveloped the 11,620-ton liner in a pillar of flame visible along the Jersey coast.
DR. CHARLES COCHRANE of Brooklyn, who came ashore in a boatload of survivors, gave a graphic description of the scene which greeted his eyes as he turned out of his cabin in the pitch blackness of night.
"The front part of the ship was all aflame," he said.
"I do not believe any passenger who got caught in the hold or cabin at any point in the ship beyond the library had a chance of escaping."
Shipping along the Atlantic coast was stunned by import of the Morro Castle's broken "SOS," and though the liner was in the heart of the greatest shipping region in the world there was not a ship nearby.
As coast guards and police battled in heart breaking failure to beat their was in launches through the surf and raging white-capped seas, those members of the crew escaping from below managed to lower life boats from one side of the flaming vessel.
In mute and pitiful evidence of the failure of many of those aboard to reach safety, life boat after life boat landed with barely a crew to fill it. The Morro Castle's boats had a capacity of 70.
The Morro Castle left Havana Wednesday night. Last night her commander, Captain ROBERT WILMOT, died from a heart attack, leaving the vessel in command of Chief Officer W. F. WARMS when she caught fire.
First to reach the blazing ship was the Monarch of Bermuda, crack Furness liner. She took off 65 persons.
Next was Andrea F. Luckenbach, who picked up 22 persons and wirelessed ashore to have ambulances waiting.
Reaching the scene then were the President Cleveland and the City of Savannah.
No Bodies Seen.
Life boats were launched and those landing along the Jersey coast reported that they had drifted beside the blazing ship for an hour without seeing any bodies or survivors.
Then, out of the fog and rain lashing the shore in the dull grey dawn, came the pitiful thin stream of survivors in life boats -- and two who swam safely ashore.
Eighty-five survivors landed in New Jersey. Others were reported here and there but whether they were duplications was a matter of conjecture. An airplane, circling the charred hulk of the Morro Castle, reported two more boats heading inshore.
The plane, manned by a National Guard observer, also reported sighting bodies in the sea. But little time could be given early in the day to bringing in the dead. All thought was for the survivors, a terror-stricken and exhausted lot.
Those who came ashore related tales of horror. Members of the crew, until curtly checked by officers, told of futile attempts by members of the deck watch to fight the flames which turned the vessel into an inferno.
CROWD SWARMS OFFICES.
New York (AP) -- An agitated crowd of several hundred persons swarmed the Ward Line offices this morning begging news of the survivors of the burning Ward passenger liner the Morro Castle.
Line officers at Piers 13 and 14, East River, were able to say only that some survivors had been taken off the ship and that she was still afloat about a mile and a half or two miles off Spring Lake or Asbury Park, N.J.
SWIM TO SHORE.
Sea Girt, N.J. (AP) -- After nearly six hours in the water, MR. and MRS. ABRAHAM COHEN of Hartford, Conn., survivors of the burning steamship, Morro Castle, swam safely to shore today.
The couple had one life preserver between them. They were the first to land of a group of people seen swimming or clinging to pieces of wreckage near shore.
Coast guard put out two lifeboats in an effort to reach the rest of the swimmers.
The COHEN'S collapsed and were taken to a nearby hospital.
The Daily Messenger Canandaigua New York 1934-09-08
SHIP FIRE BELIEVED INCENDIARY ORIGIN.
DECLARES ATTEMPT MADE TO FIRE THE BOAT PREVIOUSLY.
SAYS FIRE DISCOVERED IN LOCKER WHICH BLEW OUT AT START; CREW HELD NEW AND UNDISCIPLINED BY REP. SUTPHIN.
New York (AP) -- Chief Officer W. F. WARMS told a federal Board of Inquiry today he believed the raging fire which early Saturday reduced the luxurious liner, Morro Castle, to a charred hulk and caused a loss of more than 116 lives, was of incendiary origin.
He said he based this belief on the fact that a locker in the writing room below "blew out" at the start of the fatal fire.
"I believe there was gasoline or kerosene in it," he said.
WARMS, who as acting master of the ship at the time of the disaster testified his belief that the disaster resulted from the work of an incendiary, was based also on the fact that during the previous voyage of the Morro Castle a fire broke out in the hold and charred paper was found in that hold.
WARMS broke down twice during his testimony, both times when he spoke of Capt. ROBERT R. WILMOTT, master of the ship, who died suddenly the night before the fire.
The chief officer described frantic scenes aboard the ship during the fire.
"I shouted orders to get the passengers in the life boats," he testified, "but the passengers were shouting and there was great confusion. Many of them wouldn't get in the lifeboats."
He testified the first word of the fire reached him at 2:45 E.S.T. An officer he sent to investigate turned a fire extinguisher on a locker and it "blew out" WARMS said. A few minutes before 3, he testified, he sounded a general alarm.
"I did all I could," he said. He added he ordered the crew turned out and ordered tin cans be used if necessary to arouse the passengers.
Sent First Message.
The first wireless message, a "standby" signal, went out about 3:15, WARMS said, and the "S.O.S.," about a minute later. He said he delayed sending a message because he thought he could control the fire.
WARMS said there had been drinking parties in the lounge just before the fire, but as they were very common he thought there was nothing to be uneasy about.
WARMS denied reports that lifeboats left the ship without orders. He said panic was created by passengers, many of whom refused to get into the boats.
"I hollered 'For God's sake get into the boats' and I saw a steward pick one girl up and forcibly put her in," WARMS testified.
The inquiry, presided over by DICKERSON N. HOOVER, assistant director of the Bureau of Navigation at Washington, opened before a packed hearing room at the New York custom house.
The first witness was Chief Officer W. F. WARMS, whose lined countenance was mute and eloquent evidence of the horror of his experiences on the fire swept liner.
At the hearing table with HOOVER was MARTIN CONBOY, United States attorney, an "observer: JOHN L. CRONE, superintendent of steamboat inspectors of the 2nd inspection district: JAMES SMITH local inspector of boilers: and Captain CARL C. NIELSON, local inspector of hulls.
Plans Own Inquiry.
CONBOY informed the board of investigation at the start that he intended to follow up the hearing with his own inquiry.
"Our investigation may be much more detailed and unlimited than the scope of this investigation," he said.
"All information will be used, and the investigation will be conducted personally by me."
The questioning was conducted chiefly by HOOVER and NEILSON.
WARMS testified his vessel was in the tail end of a hurricane Friday night.
Captain ROBERT WILLMOTT died of indigestion and heart failure earlier, WARMS testified, and he took the bridge.
"We laid out the Captain -- God rest his soul -- and I went to the bridge," WARMS related.
"He had not been sick on the way out."
"I'm not myself," WARMS said.
THen his head dropped and he placed his handkerchief over his eyes and wept, sobs shaking his shoulders.
"We were pals," he sobbed.
After a moment he pulled himself together.
"Ok," he said, the questioning continued.
WARMS said the first word of fire he had was at 2:45 A.M. when the night deck watchman informed him.
"He reported he had seen smoke and fire coming out of ventilators on the portside amidships."
"What did you do then?" NIELSON asked.
"I sent the second officer to investigate. Then the salon night watchman reported fire in the library."
"Did you leave the bridge," NIELSON asked.
He said a locker "blew out" as the second officer put a fire extinguisher on it. "There was gasoline in it."
"I sounded the general alarm a few minutes before 3 o'clock."
"I told the lookout man to turn out the crew and ordered the stewards and salon watchman to waken the passengers and use tin pans it necessary."
The Casualty Listing:
MRS. SOPHIE ALTENBURG; CARLOS ALVAREZ; CHARLES BADER; ARTURO BARRIOS; MISS ANNA BEHLING; MAX BERLINER; MISS AGNES D. BERRY; MR. JOSEPH BERTO; MR. ELIAS BOGUSON; MR. IRVING BRADKIN; MR. EDWARD J. BRADY; MISS ELEANOR BRENNAN; MERVYN BREGSTEIN; MISS BROWNEY; MRS. HENRIETTA BORRELL; DR. FRANCOIS BUSQUET; MRS. MARIE BYRNE; MR. FRANK CARDELLECHIO; MR. ALBERT CASINIERE; MRS. CARRIE CLARK; MISS CATHERINE COCHRANE; DR. JAMES F. COLL; MISS CAMILLA CONROY; MRS. JAMES DILLON; MRS. ADELAIDE DISTLER; MR. ERNEST DISTLER; MR. CHARLES ELIAS; MISS JERRI ERRICKSON; HAMLET FARNELL; MR. FRED FAULCONER; MR. THOMAS FEARHERSTON; FAMON FERNER; MR. CHARLES F. FILTZER; MR. HAROLD FOERSCH; MISS FANNIE FRYMAN; MRS. DORA GAHRINGER; MISS LILLIAN GAHRINGER; MR. ROBERT GARNER; MR. MANUEL GOMEZ; MR. MANUEL GONZALEZ; MR. ROBERTO GONZALEZ; MRS. AUGUSTA GRIESMER; MRS. CLARA LAUBER GRIESMER; MR. FREDERICK GRIESMER; MR. WILLIAM GRIMM; MR. JESUS GUTERBAY; MR. HENRY HAGEDORN; MRS. MINNIE HAGEDORN; MR. WILLIAM HAESSLER; MR. JOSEPH A. HEIMAN; AAGOT HALVORSEN; MR. WILLIAM HILLSTRAND; MR. FRANZ HOED DE BECHE; MISS EVA HOFFMAN; MRS. GRACE HOLDEN; MR. HENRY JAKOBY; MR. HENRY, JAKOBY, JR.; MR. JAMES F. KENNEDY; MR. JOHN KENT; MR. MILTON KLEIN; MR. ADOLPH KOSBOTHE; MRS. MARY KOSBOTHE; MISS ROSE KRAUS; MRS. ANNA KUHN; MR. ALBERT KURLAND; MISS DOROTHY LANDAN; MR. CLYDE LATTA; MR. NICHOLAS LARRANAGA; MR. JACOB A. LIKEWISE; MR. ANTHONY LIONE; RAYMOND LIONE; HARRY A LIPSCOMBE; MR. MIILTON LISTIC; MISS ANN G. LITVAK; MRS. DOROTHY SEEBACH LOFMARK; MRS. MARGARET LOHSE; MR. JOHN LOPEZ; MR. MORTON LYON; MR. HERBERT MARSHALL; MRS. NELLIE MARSHALL; MR. ALEXANDER McARTHUR; MR. STANLEY MAKARSKI; MR. NELSON MARTIN; MR. ARTURO MATTARITA; MR. JULIUS MAUS; FRANK MELEY; MR. NELSON MESSEREAU; MR. ROBERT MILLER; MRS. LETTY C. MOHR; MRS. EMILY MORAN; MISS MARION MORAN; MR. STANLEY MORRIS; MISS FRANCIS MULLER; MRS. FRANCES MURPHY; MRS. DORA NEWMARK; MR. RENE OLAVARRIA; MRS. LAURA OLSON; MISS LOUISE OVERGENE; MRS. BESSIE PEARLMAN; MRS. VIOLA PELLICE; MR. LOUIS PELLICE; MR. SAM PETTI; MR. GUIDO POLICASTRO; ERNEST E. POTTBERG; MRS. MARY PRICE; MR. LUCIANO RAMOS; MR. EUGENE REICHELE; FERDINAND REINEKING; MRS. MARIE RENZ; MR. G. ALEXANDER ROSS; DICKIE RUEDA; MR. SYDNEY RYAN; BRAULIO SAENZ AGUILERA; MISS CAINA SAENZ AGUILERA; MRS. MARGARET SAENZ; MISS MARTA SAENZ AGUILERA; MRS. FREIDA SCHEELY; MRS. P. SHAROTT; ARTHUR SHERIDAN; MISS FRANCES SPECTOR; MRS. FRANCIS STEWART; DR. HENRY C. STRAUCH; MRS. RUTH DOROTHY STRAUCH; MR. EDUARDO SUAREZ MURIAS; MISS LOUISE TAUBERT; MR. JAMES THOMAS; MISS SARAH THRONE; FRANCESCO TOSTI; MR. LUPENCINO TRUJILLO; MR. ERNEST ULRICH; MR. ANTONIO VALLEJO; DR. DEWITT C. VANZILE; JOSE VASQUEZ; IRINEO VILLEHOZ; MISS LOUISE AGNES VOGT; MR. HERBERT WACKER; MR. GEORGE WEBERMAN; MISS HENRIETTA WECKER; MRS. CLARA WEIL; MR. RICHARD WILSON; MRS. RAGNE ZABOLA; MR. HENRY ZIMPLINSKI.
The Daily Messenger Canandaigua New York 1934-09-10
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!