A freelance journalist and skilled diver chronicles the lives and deaths of those who have explored the wreck of the Andrea Doria.
In July 1956, the luxury liner Andrea Doria, inbound from Italy, collided in the fog south of Nantucket Island with an outbound Swedish liner Stockholm, which chugged back into port carrying hundreds of survivors. Andrea Doria, with 51 of her 1,706 passengers dead, headed for the bottom, 235 feet below, where for the past half-century she has lain as a kind of Holy Grail for scuba divers. McMurray claims a kind of mystical attachment to the wreck: “I was destined to dive the Doria,” he declares. He remembers seeing the vessel in his boyhood, and as he grew older he became a dedicated, adventurous diver. When he departed for his first descent to Doria—a highly technical, challenging, and expensive dive dubbed the “Mount Everest of wreck diving”—his wife said simply: “ ‘Don’t get killed, asshole.’ ” He didn’t, but quite a few others did. After an opening chapter relating the 1985 death of diver John Ormsby, McMurray charts the history of the Andrea Doria before returning to sketch his diving autobiography. From then on (his bona fides established), he fashions a virtual Book of the Dead as he tells the stories of the dozen divers who have perished at the site, including an incredible five in one season (1998–99). (In questionable taste are the superfluous photographs of recoveries—there are three alone of the dead Ormsby.) Some succumbed to what is called “china fever”—the passion to acquire dinnerware with the Doria logo—and in their excitement they jettisoned their prudence. Others were unlucky, some unhealthy, some careless—maybe even stupid. McMurray knows his stuff, and the portraits of the various (and often competing) personalities are clear and compelling. His conclusion, however, is a bit anticlimactic: “There are no easy answers. . . . Shit happens.”
Occasionally (and understandably) macho in tone, but full of high drama in low places. (1 map, 50 b&w photographs)