Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Empress of Ireland: Shipwreck in the Night

Empress of Ireland: Shipwreck in the Night
by Roger Weston

2:00 a.m. St. Lawrence River. May 29, 1914. The river was shrouded in fog. Two ships were steaming towards each other. The Canadian Pacific steamship Empress of Ireland, was headed outbound from Quebec. The Norwegian collier Storstad was heading upriver. The Empress was close to shore, and so was the Storstad. The officers on each ship spotted the other in the distance.  

On the bridge of the Empress of Ireland, Captain Henry Kendall began to change course. Just then his ship was swallowed in the fog. Kendall blasted his whistle three times, signaling that he was ordering his engines full astern. The ship slowed and was nearly stopped. The next thing Kendall saw was the masthead lights of the Storstad glowing out of the fog to starboard. The other ship was booming straight at him. They were so close that there was no time to move. Collision was inevitable. All Kendall could do was change his ship’s angle to limit the damage to a glancing blow. He ordered a sharp turn to starboard. The Storstad's bow smashed between the liner's steel ribs, ripping the steal and cutting an opening, in which flowed the river.

The Empress began to list from the rising water, and tragic consequences followed. People sleeping in starboard cabins were submerged in freezing water and died in their sleep. On deck, the situation was also dire. The new slant of her decks made the lifeboats useless. Only six of them could be deployed. After only ten minutes, the ship fell over onto her side. Hundreds of passengers climbed on her hull and hoped for rescue. Four minutes later, the beautiful Empress of Ireland sank into the freezing water and one thousand and twelve souls perished, including eight hundred and forty passengers. 

The four hundred and sixty-five who survived were pulled out of the river in hypothermic condition. Among the survivors was an entrepreneur named Edward Seybold, but his wife Susanna Seybold was lost. It was their 43rd wedding anniversary.

Grace Hanagan was also among the survivors. She was an eight-year-old girl, who was traveling with her parents to London to take part in the Salvation Army’s International Congress. Her parents were lost. For a year afterwards, Grace believed that her mother might have survived because her body was never found.

Egildo Braga and his wife Carolina managed to survive as well, but it was tragic good luck. Egildo had done everything he could to save their son in the freezing water, but the river was too powerful. It tore away his boy, even though Egildo had tied him to himself. Egildo desperately searched for their child in the darkness, but could not find him. Their young son had perished in the river that dark and tragic night.

One thousand and twelve lives came to a sudden, unexpected end on that foggy night in the St. Lawrence River when the Empress of Ireland went down. The death toll exceeded that of the Titanic.


If you enjoy reading fast-paced action adventures with a maritime twist, check out Fatal Return.   


When an eccentric billionaire hires Jake Sands, a maritime history professor, to give the farewell speech for the Queen Mary's last voyage, Jake readily accepts the offer, not knowing he will be sucked into a fatal plot for revenge that began in WWII with a disaster five times more deadly than the Titanic. 
 Roger Weston writes action-packed thrillers with a maritime twist.
You can find all of his books at Roger Weston's Amazon Author Page 

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