New York, NY Steamboat Seawanhaka Disaster, Jun 1880
A STEAM-BOAT IN FLAMES
MANY OF HER PASSENGERS EITHER BURNED OR DROWNED.
THE SEAWANHAKA ON FIRE NEAR RANDALL'S ISLAND----THE LOSS OF LIFE ESTIMATED AT 30 TO 40---CHOOSING BETWEEN DROWNING AND BURNING---NARRATIVES OF THE DISASTER FROM PASSENGERS ON BOARD AND FROM PERSONS ENGAGED IN SAVING LIFE.
Almost before the terrible scenes of the loss of the Narragansett have lost their vividness, another disaster has occurred---the burning of the Seawanhaka, with a like sacrifice of many lives. This boat plying between the City and the suburban villages on the north shore of Long Island, was discovered to be on fire just as she had passed through Hell Gate yesterday afternoon. The nature of the shores, and a channel crowded with vessels, prevented any immediate landing. All that the Captain could do, and he stuck to his post bravely, was to run the steam boat ashore upon the marshes at the outer end of Randall's Island. The flames spread rapidly, and almost before the shore was reached, the frightened passengers had to choose between death in the flames or the chance of drowning. Some terrible scenes are detailed. Passing steamers and a multitude of row-boats lent their assistance and picked up those who threw themselves overboard. Many jumped from the bow into the shallow water and waded ashore so that the larger number was saved. As usual in boats of this class, no record of the passengers is kept; it is estimated, however, that there were not less than 300 persons on board. Of those who were lost, some were drowned and some were burned. Not less than 30 bodies had been recovered at midnight. The estimates of the deaths vary very greatly, the highest being 40. Eight persons aside from this list are missing, and not less than 50 are more or less injured. The origin of the fire is stated to have been an explosion, but nothing more definite had been ascertained. The owners of the Seawanhaka were six in number. Mr. Endel, Kirkley & Co., Charles A. Dana, Esq., and S. L. M. Barlow, Esq. Mr. Dana and Mr. Barlow were on board the steam-boat, and were both saved.
THE BURNING OF THE BOAT.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE FLAMES----TERRIBLE SCENES WHICH FOLLOWED----SAVING THE IMPERILED PASSENGERS.
Another shocking steam-boat disaster was added to the already long list yesterday afternoon. The steam-boat Seawanhaka, plying between this City, Sands Point, Glen Cove, Sea Cliff, and Roslyn, Long Island, took fire from an explosion forward, the origin of which nobody seems to know, at 4:55 o'clock on her afternoon trip outward. She was then between Hell Gate and Little Hell Gate. A puff of black smoke and a flash of flame out of the smokestack followed the dull thud of the explosion, and an instant afterward a huge volume of fire enveloped the forward part of the boat.
Capt. Smith, who was at the wheel, realized the danger at once, but was unable to turn either to the right or left for several minutes on account of the steamer Granite State which was running outside of her, and several schooners which were between her and the shore. Jets of flame darted up the chain-holes, cutting off communication with the engineer, and burning the helmsman's hands so that he was compelled to make quick snatches at the spokes of the wheel, being forced to drop them instantly again. With consummate bravery he held the burning vessel on her course between the obstructing vessels, while his hands and face slowly blistered, and when he had succeeded in passing them, turned her nose sharply about and headed her direct for the sunken meadow that lies between Ward's and Randall's Islands. The spot was admirably chosen. On both islands were large hospitals, whose medical staffs could be counted on in an emergency like the present one; the distance from shore was not great, and there was ample means of succor in every direction. Taking into consideration the fact that the wind was blowing across the water, Capt. Smith so steered his boat that when she struck she would lie broadside to the breeze. This was for the purpose of keeping the fire as much as possible on one side of the boat and giving those on board a better opportunity to save themselves. Had it been allowed to sweep from stem to stern, the disaster would undoubtedly have been much greater. The Seawanhaka ran with such force upon the meadow that 40 feet of her lay high and dry before she stopped, and she was less than 100 feet from the main shore.
Meantime the greatest consternation prevailed among the passengers, and long before she struck they began to drop overboard. Those who remained were quickly driven to follow their example, and eye-witnesses describe the appearance of the surrounding water as similar to that of Rockaway Beach on a warm Sunday, so thickly was it dotted with heads. A few lingered, burning their bodies and rendering them comparatively helpless, so that nearly all in this condition were drowned. There is only too much reason to believe that several were unable to make the attempt to save themselves, and perished miserably, the steamer's hull. The Granite State stopped her engines and lowered five boats to the rescue. Dr. Howard Superintendent of Randall's Island saw the fire almost as soon as it started, and instantly ordered the ferry-boat and all the guard-boats attached to the island to [illegible] manned and put off to the meadow. The Doctor himself, hailing a passing fisherman in a small boat, jumped into it with two other physicians and struck one end of the meadow as the Seawanhaka ran up on the other. T. Osseo and Minnahanonck soon came insight, and, running down to the sp[illegible] rendered active assistance. The boats attached to Ward's Island, including the steam passengers [illegible] launch, were also quickly on hand, and numerous other craft darted out from the New-York shore, Whitestone, and Astoria.
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