Asbury Park, NJ The SS MORRO CASTLE Disaster, Sep 1934
Spring Lake, N.J. -- Fire, terror of the sea, swept the passenger liner Morro Castle in the storm shrouded darkness just at dawn today barely eight miles off-shore from Asbury Park, N. J.
Five and one-half hours later more than 300 of the 558 passengers and crew were unaccounted for.
"SOS -- Morro Castle afire off Scotland light ---"
The first frantic "SOS" was picked up at 3:23 EST. So swiftly did the roaring flames envelope the vessel, with its 318 sleeping passengers enroute home to New York after a 7-day excursion to Havana, that the ship soon was aflame from stem to stern.
About 250 Rescued.
Shortly after 10 A.M. EST, fewer than 250 survivors had been landed or picked up by nearby steamers racing to the rescue.
Bodies were visible in the water off the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J. Surf boats from the coast guard stations along the Jersey shore pushed through the heavy seas in search of survivors.
The blaze started apparently in the library, according to some of the members of the crew reaching shore in a life boat. It spread to the great tanks of fuel oil and enveloped the 11,620-ton liner in a pillar of flame visible along the Jersey coast.
DR. CHARLES COCHRANE of Brooklyn, who came ashore in a boatload of survivors, gave a graphic description of the scene which greeted his eyes as he turned out of his cabin in the pitch blackness of night.
"The front part of the ship was all aflame," he said.
"I do not believe any passenger who got caught in the hold or cabin at any point in the ship beyond the library had a chance of escaping."
Shipping along the Atlantic coast was stunned by import of the Morro Castle's broken "SOS," and though the liner was in the heart of the greatest shipping region in the world there was not a ship nearby.
As coast guards and police battled in heart breaking failure to beat their was in launches through the surf and raging white-capped seas, those members of the crew escaping from below managed to lower life boats from one side of the flaming vessel.
In mute and pitiful evidence of the failure of many of those aboard to reach safety, life boat after life boat landed with barely a crew to fill it. The Morro Castle's boats had a capacity of 70.
The Morro Castle left Havana Wednesday night. Last night her commander, Captain ROBERT WILMOT, died from a heart attack, leaving the vessel in command of Chief Officer W. F. WARMS when she caught fire.
First to reach the blazing ship was the Monarch of Bermuda, crack Furness liner. She took off 65 persons.
Next was Andrea F. Luckenbach, who picked up 22 persons and wirelessed ashore to have ambulances waiting.
Reaching the scene then were the President Cleveland and the City of Savannah.
No Bodies Seen.
Life boats were launched and those landing along the Jersey coast reported that they had drifted beside the blazing ship for an hour without seeing any bodies or survivors.
Then, out of the fog and rain lashing the shore in the dull grey dawn, came the pitiful thin stream of survivors in life boats -- and two who swam safely ashore.
Eighty-five survivors landed in New Jersey. Others were reported here and there but whether they were duplications was a matter of conjecture. An airplane, circling the charred hulk of the Morro Castle, reported two more boats heading inshore.
The plane, manned by a National Guard observer, also reported sighting bodies in the sea. But little time could be given early in the day to bringing in the dead. All thought was for the survivors, a terror-stricken and exhausted lot.
Those who came ashore related tales of horror. Members of the crew, until curtly checked by officers, told of futile attempts by members of the deck watch to fight the flames which turned the vessel into an inferno.