Pittsburgh, PA Excursion Steamer ISLAND QUEEN Explodes, Sep 1947
EXCURSION STEAMER "ISLAND QUEEN" EXPLODES.
OHIO RIVER CRAFT EXPLODES, BLAZES; 17 CREWMEN HURT.
Pittsburgh -- AP -- A giant explosion and fire spewing damage over a wide river front area Tuesday destroyed the five-deck excursion steamer "ISLAND QUEEN," killing an estimated 28 crew members and injuring at least 17 others.
More than 60 of the big boat's 92 crewmen were aboard when two tremendous blasts rocked the vessel at her Monongahela River dock. The tragedy occurred just 45 minutes before she was to take on passengers for a scenic three-hour river cruise.
Pittsburgh -- AP -- EDWARD L. SCHOTT of Cincinnati president of the company which owned the "ISLAND QUEEN" excursion boat, announced last night the total of dead and missing in the tragedy numbered 24.
Cincinnati -- AP -- F. S. CHRISTMAN, assistant director of operation of the U. S. Corps of Engineers of the Ohio River division, said he had been advised that a boiler had exploded on the excursion boat ISLAND QUEEN which was destroyed by an explosion and fire at Pittsburgh Tuesday.
The opinion, he said, was telephoned to him by JOHN H. DODDS, chief of operations in the Pittsburgh District Corps of Engineers.
Bodies were hurled high into the air, dropping more than 30 feet away into the river, by the force of the blast.
Police Superintendent HARVEY SCOTT and firemen estimated the death toll.
A fireman who probed the blackened wreckage after the oil and gasoline fed flames were extinguished reported at least 27 blackened bodies still aboard. Firemen began to remove them, wrapped in canvas.
Fireman S. B. LANYON declared: "I saw six bodies myself and they were blackened beyond recognition."
A short time after the bodies were counted, Fire Chief WILLIAM DAVIS ordered all firemen off the boat because, he said, the hulk was settling deeper into the river and threatening to break side-ways into the stream.
Sinks To Top Deck.
The charred and blackened hulk of the once proud steamer sank in the Monongahela River after burning for two hours. Only her top deck, still spewing thick black smoke from smouldering oil, was visible last night.
Police estimated it would take several days to probe the waters for additional victims of the spectacular blast which shook the downtown area, wrecking cars parked along the waterfront and smashing countless windows in nearby sotres and buldings.
At least 17 persons were injured and hospitalized. Authorities feared the death total might rise.
The ship's captain, N. C. HALL of Cincinnati, who was not aboard at the time the blast rocked the vessel at 12:15 p.m. (EST) said the "ISLAND QUEEN" carried a crew of 85. The boat had accommodations for 4,000 passengers.
Firemen Go Overboard.
Police, firemen and passersby dived into the murky waters to rescue crewmen hurled into the river by two tremendous blasts. Firemen, hampered by cars parked along the wharf, enlisted the aid of bystanders to kick open the automobile windows in order to remove the cars.
A fire boat standing nearby and other riverboats turned their hoses on the flaming steamer, whose home port was Cincinnati, O.
Police Superintendent SCOTT said 15 members of the crew were believed asleep aboard the vessel at the time of the explosion. He said police were investigating a report that an acetylene torch was in use on the ship.
Described As Inferno.
"It was unbelievable. It happened so quickly. It was a real inferno, so hot it scorched cars and melted windshields."
WILLIAM L. FLUKE, who works for a ship outfitting firm in a nearby building, said, "the explosion was followed by a burst of flames which hit the boat. I thought the whole block blew up."
FLUKE'S desk was covered by broken glass from the smashed window.
Sidewalks in several blocks were blocked off to prevent injuries to the thousands of sightseers who jammed the area.
Owned In Cincinnati.
The ISLAND QUEEN is owned by Coney Island, Inc., operators of Coney Island Amusement Park on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. A company spokesman said the boat left there Saturday for a 10-day stay in Pittsburgh during which nightly "moonlight" excursion trips were scheduled.
The all-steel, glass-enclosed craft, which the company claims was the largest inland excursion boat in the United States, was 285 feet long and 51 feet wide.
Although no positive check was available, estimates of the number of dead and injured indicated that between 50 and 60 of the boat's 85 crew members were aboard at the time of the blast. Most of the dead and injured were believed to be from Cincinnati.
Kingsport News Tennessee 1947-09-10