SOS from the Andrea Doria

| 23 Aug 2012 | 12:04

Editor's note: Last week we began the story of Pat Mastrincola who, at nine years old in 1956, was a passenger on the Andrea Doria. Mastrincola, now 65 and a resident of West Milford, was a rambunctious child who wanted to explore the ship, which was making its way back to New York from Italy. On July 25, 1956, Mastrincola's mother, Rose, was in the dining room watching a movie. She allowed her eight-year-old daughter, Arlene, to return to the family's cabin. Her son, bored by the movie, sneaked away and was behind the movie projector when the liner Stockholm slammed into the Andrea Doria, causing it to list 25 degrees. The Andrea Doria was taking on water and sinking fast. Mastrincola made his way to his mother and realized his sister was back in the cabin. That's where we pick up with Mastrincola's story.

By Ginny Raue

“The doorway to the dining room had people stacked to the ceiling but I managed to squeeze out along the bottom, wanting to get below to get my sister,” said Mastrincola. On his way, he passed people covered in oil, encountered severe smoky conditions and was knocked down repeatedly by panicking passengers.
“When the Stockholm hit, it slid down the entire side, igniting the fire proof lining,” said Mastrincola. Groping his way through the smoke down the halls, he knew he had to make a right turn and reach the last door. Then he spotted it, the box on the wall with the red cross on it. Now he knew where he was.
“If it wasn’t for the red cross, I may have run right into the hole,” he said.
Finding their cabin and his sister sound asleep, up on a wall, he woke her and said they were sinking, they had to get out.
“She panicked so I swatted her, like in the John Wayne movies.”
He located four life jackets in the cabin and headed out with his sister. Passing three women praying the Rosary, he got them in front of him and gave them a push. “Off they went,” he said
The kids found their mother and went up to the high side of the ship. Where the useless lifeboats were. They had to navigate oil covered decks and make their way to the starboard side. From there the terror grew.

Finding their way to safety

The life boats were in the water, about 35 feet below the only exit points, and the passengers had to lower themselves down on a rope into the boats. Rose thought if she went down first, Arlene would follow, but Arlene panicked and hesitated. People started yelling, “Throw her overboard.” She finally went down and Mastrincola was next. His bravado did not serve him well this time.
“I decided to spiral down. But something hooked my life jacket from behind. I let go of the rope and was hanging off the side of the ship.” Another passenger pulled him up and he made it to the life boat.
His family was safe.

Where's the bike?

By this time, many hours had passed and there was a way to go to safety. Of the 1,134 passengers and 572 crew members, 52 had perished and the rest were loading into life boats.
The Andrea Doria’s SOS resulted in rescue ships hurrying to their location. Three hours after the collision, the SS Ile de France arrived. She was navigating in the fog between the Doria, the Stockholm, other rescue vessels and life boats. As she approached, she had all her lights on, and as if heaven-sent, the fog lifted. That beautiful ship coming out of the fog to the rescue. She took on 753 people that night, saving many lives.
One of the most amazing stories to come out of the tragedy is the story of 14-year-old Linda Morgan. In her cabin with her family when the collision occurred, her sister and step-father died, her mother was injured and Linda had disappeared. She was later found, injured but alive, on the bow of the Stockholm.
The Mastrincola family made it back to New York the next day on the Ile de France. Angelo, the dad, learned of the accident in the morning newspaper, rushed to the pier and was reunited with his family. They were okay, but the young Mastrincola was upset. His brand new Italian racing bike now rested under the waves.

Not his last brush with death

So you see, although Pat was a little tough guy, he was still just a nine-year-old boy. He was lucky to have his life ahead of him.
“But I never joined the Navy,” he said.
In retrospect, that may have been a better choice.
At age 19, he joined the Army. In 1966 he survived a fall from a plane when his parachute failed to open. He saw much action in Viet Nam, flying in spotter planes. Later, he was driving a truck in Virginia when a roadside sniper blew out his windshield. While driving a bus to Atlantic City, a truck in front of him hit a lamp post sending it through his windshield and breaking his neck.
Is Mastrincola horribly unlucky or the luckiest guy on earth?
“I was almost killed 14 times. I’m 65 now and I’ve gotten away with it for quite a few years,” he said.