The SS Andrea Doria was a luxury passenger liner in an age when air travel was putting passenger trains and ships out of business. Neverthess, she was still new and attracted more clientele than older ocean liners. She set sail from the Mediterranean in mid-July, 1956, bound for New York with 1,134 passengers and 572 crewmembers for a total 1,706 persons on board: close to full capacity.
Cold water currents from the North Atlantic meet the warm waters of the Gulf Stream off the coast of Massachusetts. As a result, dense fog is quite common in this area of the ocean and the Andrea Doria had to sail through it July 25, 1956 as she approached New York.
Not long before noon that day, the passenger liner MS Stockholm departed New York for a transatlantic voyage back to her home port of Gothenburg, Sweden. It was evening but not yet dark as the Stockholm approached Nantucket. The officers on the bridge were unaware of the dense fog just ahead. Meanwhile, the Andrea Doria was still enshrouded by the fog, preventing lookouts from seeing the oncoming Stockholm.
Stockholm was cruising at about 18 knots, while Andrea Doria had reduced speed slightly from her normal cruising speed of 23.0 knots down to 21.8 knots, due to the fog. Both ships had new radar systems, and were aware of the presence of another ship, but not the size or type of vessel. Unfortunately, neither crew were sufficiently trained in the use of their radar systems and both crews failed to plot the course of the other ship. If they had they would have realized they were on a collision course.
In the dim twilight and the thinning fog, they spotted each other. Stockholm turned to starboard (right) to avoid the collision. Andrea Doria should have also turned to starboard, which would have prevented a crash, but instead turned to port (left). A t-bone collision was now imminent. The captain of the Andrea Doria ordered full-speed ahead in hopes of getting out of the way of the oncoming Stockholm, but that only made matters worse. The captain of the Stockholm ordered engines full-reverse, which helped prevent a worse tragedy, but it was too late to stop the inevitable. The ice-breaking bow of the Stockholm rammed into Andrea Doria’s starboard side with enough force to gouge a hole forty feet deep into the bigger ship.
New York Times foreign correspondent Camille Cianfarra and his family had boarded the Andrea Doria in Gibraltar. He and his wife Jane, a reporter for the New York Post, were taking their young daughter Joan, 8, and Jane’s daughter from a previous marriage, Linda Morgan, 14, to the United States for a vacation. They lived in Spain and both girls spoke fluent Spanish. The girls shared a cabin next door to their parent’s cabin.
The bow of the Stockholm directly hit the girl’s cabin. Joan, who was in the bed furthest away was killed instantly. Stockholm’s bow pushed both parents through the wall and into the next cabin. Joan’s father Camille was mortally injured and died soon after the collision. The girl’s mother, Jane, was pinned in the wreckage of that other cabin. A woman in that cabin was also pinned. Her husband, a doctor, worked for hours trying to free them. He succeeded freeing Jane, but his wife perished before she could be freed. Jane was desperate to get to her daughters, but was horrified to find only a huge gaping hole where their cabin had been.
When the smaller Stockholm rammed the larger Andrea Doria, it entered the hull just below Linda’s bed. She was injured but not badly. Linda fell out of her bed and onto the forward deck of the smaller Stockholm in just the right place behind something sturdy such that when Stockholm reversed back out and disengaged itself from Andrea Doria, Linda suffered no further injury. She became known as the “miracle girl”.
In New York, Linda’s father, Edward P. Morgan, an ABC Radio Network news commentator was on the air reporting the collision. Despite the fact that he knew his daughter had been on the Andrea Doria and that she was missing and presumed dead, he stoically and professionally reported news of the event. The following evening he learned she was alive, well, and coming into New York on the Stockholm. That evening’s broadcast was, reportedly, a great deal more emotional.
Linda Morgan Cianfarra married Phil Hardberger in 1968. He became mayor of San Antonio, Texas in 2005. Linda Morgan Cianfarra Hardberger served as First Lady of San Antonio from June 7, 2005 until June 1, 2009.
Here’s a really well done video that provides more details and backstory. “The Incredible Story behind Andrea Doria’s Miracle Girl” (12:46):
Question of the night: Would you prefer traveling to an overseas destination on an ocean liner instead of a jetliner?