SOS from the Andrea Doria: “We need immediate assistance”

| 16 Aug 2012 | 01:43

What follows is part 1 of the story of Pat Mastrincola, a West Milford resident, and survivor of the Andrea Doria ocean liner crash in 1956. We begin the story with Mastrincola as a 9-year-old, finding ways to get in trouble on this beautiful ship. But he responded to the disaster with a maturity and bravery far beyond his years.

The last thing you need on a luxury cruise is a nine-year old with a penchant for trouble. But maybe that’s not true. A boy who cut his teeth on John Wayne movies may be just what you’d want if you were his little sister and on the ill-fated Italian ocean liner, Andrea Doria. This is the story of the ship and that imp, West Milford resident Pat Mastrincola.
Mastrincola, now 65, was in trouble before they cleared New York Harbor on May 18, 1956. Nosing around the ship, he became separated from his family. As a result, his father, on board to bid farewell to his wife and children as they left to visit family in Italy, had to remain on the ship as they sailed. Mastrincola was finally located. His father had to return to shore by tug boat.
“I think he would have killed me if the captain wasn’t there,” Mastrincola said.
And so began the adventure; a sea voyage, visiting another country and a wonderful gift from his family in Italy - a new racing bike to take home. Mastrincola’s return trip to America, however, turned dark.

The ship

The Andrea Doria, launched in 1951, was a symbol of Italy’s return to better economic times. She was not the largest vessel on the ocean but considered the most beautiful. She was a floating gallery, with many valuable works of art complementing the ship’s luxurious décor. Her captain, Piero Calamai, was a seasoned officer.

Heading towards disaster

Late in the afternoon of July 25, the Andrea Doria, on her 101st crossing, was enveloped in a dense, blinding fog. The captain minimally slowed the ship, activated the fog whistle and closed the water-tight doors. At about 10 hours from New York, she entered the busy shipping lanes off Nantucket, Mass.
On board that evening, the parties were on-going. Some dined and danced, others returned to their cabins, packing for their morning departure.

Life and death decisions

Unbeknownst to Calamai, the liner Stockholm, sailing from New York to Sweden, was in its path, invisible in the fog. The captain of the Stockholm had gone to bed, leaving Third Officer Carstens-Johannsen at the helm.
9:30 p.m. – Calamai orders a change of course, taking them slightly south of Nantucket lighthouse.
10 p.m. – Severe fog warning in the area recorded in Stockholm’s log.
10:30 p.m. – Johhannsen changes course to a more southern route.
10:40 p.m. – Calamai sees the Stockholm on radar, determines it’s 17 miles away, in the Doria’s path but estimated to pass a mile away.
10:48 p.m. – The Andrea Doria appears on Stockholm’s radar, calculated to be 12 miles to the north. It‘s later assumed that the radar was set at a five-mile scale rather than the 15-mile scale it was thought to be at.
11:06 p.m. – Andrea Doria swings to left to widen the gap, but exposing her side to the Stockholm’s bow.
11:08 p.m. – Calamai scans the fog. When finally visible, the Stockholm is turning directly into the Doria. Stockholm sees the Doria, orders full speed astern.
11:10 p.m. – Stockholm, equipped with an ice breaking prow, rams 40 feet deep into the side of the Andrea Doria, penetrating three cabins and piercing five empty fuel tanks which allowed 500 tons of sea water to fill the tanks. Soon, she was listing 25 degrees. Designed to sustain a 15 degree list, the Andrea Doria was doomed. And half her lifeboats, on the port side, could not be launched.
The cause of the collision remains in dispute. Both ships erred but the misreading of the Stockholm’s radar is widely accepted as the major factor. The two shipping lines settled out of court.
Calamai never sailed again. On his death-bed he asked “Are the passengers safe?”
The Andrea Doria lies in 160 feet of water. Sixteen scuba divers have died going to the wreckage; eerily, one diver was a passenger on the Doria’s final voyage.

The beginning of Pat’s story

Mastrincola was easily bored - as many his age were - so a seven-day crossing allowed time for mischief.
“I got into a lot of trouble, exploring all over the ship,” he said. He was caught many times climbing over the rails and sent back down to tourist class. “There was always a crew member dragging me back.”
On the night of the collision, the Mastrincola family was in the dining room watching a movie. Unknown to Mastrincola, Rose, his mother, had allowed his eight-year old sister, Arlene, to return to their cabin. Not content to watch a romantic film, Pat was on the move, at that moment behind the projection screen.
Then came the jarring hit, the terrifying noises, all hell breaking loose.
“I was standing right in front of the pantry when the ship took a hard left. All the dishes broke loose from the shelves behind me. The screen and projector went over, the room tilted to the right, everything was sliding towards the wall, including me,” Mastrincola said.
Rose was hanging on to a trellis and he crawled up to her. She was screaming “My baby, my baby.” He tried to assure her he was okay, not realizing she was terrified for her daughter, alone, down in the cabin.

Pat Mastrincola's journey on the Andrea Doria continues in next week’s Messenger.