Asbury Park, NJ The SS MORRO CASTLE Disaster, Sep 1934
BELIEVE 251 LIVES ARE LOST IN SHIP BLAZE.
VICTIMS TRAPPED AS BLAZING OIL ENVELOPES THEM.
558 PASSENGERS AND CREW LISTED ON VESSEL; 30 BODIES REPORTED WASHED ASHORE; 185 LANDED SAFELY ON BEACH.
Spring Lake, N. J. -- Fire destroyed the luxurious liner Morro Castle today in the storm washed coastal reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, a bare eight miles off the Jersey shore at Asbury Park with heavy loss of life.
Hours after the first broken SOS stuttered out to the sleeping world, 251 of the liner's 558 passengers and crew were dead or unaccounted for. Thirty three bodies were recovered at Manasquan, N.J., and 17 were washed ashore at Point Pleasant.
Navy headquarters set at 185 the number of survivors who were landed safely or washed ashore on the Jersey beach.
A wireless message, received at coast guard headquarters in Washington from the cutter, Tampa, said 360 persons "out of 503 aboard" the vessel were accounted for as alive. It could not be determined definitely here how many were brought to the beaches.
The crack Furness liner, Monarch of Bermuda, which raced full speed through the rain-whipped dawn to the Morro Castle's side brought 70 living and one dead into New York. Many of the living were in a dying condition.
The Andrea F. Luckenbach which also reached the blazing liner's side in time, carried 22 persons to New York, where they were rushed to many hospitals, through police cleared streets.
100 In Hospitals.
A special train left for Asbury Park shortly before noon to bring back to hospitals 100 of the survivors on the beach -- all of them members of the crew, save five women and three men.
Marine observers at Sandy Hook and National Buard aerial observers reported many bodies floating in the sea, Governor A. Harry Moore, of New Jersey, who flew over the smoke-palled scene, reported sighting more than 100 persons in the water and said many were dead.
The cause of the fire has not been determined. There were reports the ship had been struck by lightning and that the flames spread to the huge oil tanks of the liner, causing them to leap through the ship with fearful speed. Other reports said the fire started in the library in the forepart of the boat.
Seventeen bodies came ashore at Point Pleasant, indicating that many of those sighted in the water were dead.
Start Towing Ship.
A fleet of coast guard vessels -- any of which battled raging surfs in the morning storms -- managed to get a line on the smouldering hulk of the 11-ton liner and began the slow painful job of towing it up the coast to New York.
Ward Line tugs sped down the bay to assist and hurry the work in the face of new storm warnings flying along the coast.
As authorities began to corelate incoherent accounts of one of the worst peace time marine disasters, they were told by members of the crew of the Morro Castle that more than 200 passengers died because they refused to enter life boats.
Tales related by passengers and crew were those of horror and heroism but in the account of the crew tragic overtones were of passengers fighting attempts to place them in boats.
Seamen who once were curtly ordered to stop talking by surviving officers said all of the passengers could have been saved if they had followed orders.
"They refused to go through the smoke and flames," related ELROY KELSEY, a seaman of Albany, N. Y.
"We pleaded with them, we tried to herd them, but few of them would go. Many even tried to fight past us and get back down the ladder to the lower decks. Finally we were forced to take to the boats without them as the sparks and embers were burning the ropes."
KELSEY said the crew succeeded in getting all passengers on deck although a seaman said the wall of flame surrounding the superstructure of the vessel prevented the seamen from getting to cabins on the lower decks. Twenty-five members of the crew interviewed separtely verified KELSEY'S story.
Scotland Lightship by which the Morro Castle fixed its position in the SOS, is famous as New York harbor's welcome to ships from the South. It is three miles off Sandy Hook.