FOURTEEN MINUTES: The Last Voyage of the Empress of Ireland by James Croall

FOURTEEN MINUTES: The Last Voyage of the Empress of Ireland

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What do the Titanic, the Empress of Ireland, and the Lusitania all have in common? Exactly. The three greatest marine disasters in history all happened within three years of each other, and of these the sinking of the Empress of Ireland claimed the largest number of passengers. (The Titanic's death toll was larger when you include crew members.) Yet very few persons even recall the ship's name. Its dead were mainly Canadians from widely separated places, not the cream of New York society; and the disaster happened just a month before Sarajevo and four memory-stopping years. The elegant Canadian Pacific liner was en route from Quebec to Liverpool on March 28, 1914. While navigating the St. Lawrence River at about 2:00 a.m., Captain Henry Kendall spied a ship fast approaching some 15 minutes away. This was the Norwegian collier Storsad, a very stout ship with thick plate and a chisel-like vertical stem for slicing through ice. The two vessels were coming together at 30 miles per hour when a fatal patch of fog drifted over the river, blinding everyone. What happened is disputed, but in an exchange of signals the Empress wound up slightly broadside to the Storsad, which cut right into her. The Storsad's captain tried to keep his ship lodged into the hole to prevent water racing in. This proved both wrong and impossible, and the ships separated. The liner sank in 14 minutes, so swiftly that only 465 survived out of 1477 aboard, the icy water claiming many swimmers. The first book about the disaster since 1914, and engrossing if not distinguished.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1979
Publisher: Stein & Day