55 years ago to this day my grandparents and I were rescued from the jaws of the Atlantic! As the Andrea Doria was inclined to reach the bottom of the sea 45 miles south of Nantucket Island, the French liner Ile-de-France carrying nearly 2000 passengers became our salvation. It sent lifeboats to a dangerous scene where 1706 Andrea Doria passengers were attempting to disembark. The young men who rode the life boats back and forth showed courage and competence. No one was lost in their hands.
But I can only describe it as ” the ride from hell!”. Besides my grandparents and me, there were dozens of traumatized passengers in the crowded lifeboat. We were all heaving; the smell of soured dreams has left a lasting impression. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Ile–only to find out we had to rescue ourselves by climbing a steep rope ladder along with the towering hull. Some passengers were luckier– they were hoisted up in their lifeboats.
After climbing what seemed to be a skyscraper over the ocean, we reached a window at the very top of the Ile-de-France. Survivors were greeted with “Bon soir!” It was a good evening indeed knowing that we would be transported to New York. Pressed along the guard rail, many Andrea Doria and Ile-de-France passengers watched in horror the sinking of the crown jewel of the Italian line. Those of us too weary and tired to gawk, lay on deck chairs where we were offered coffee and croissants, among other French specialties.
Captain Raoul de Beaudean and his crew will always be heroes in my mind. If they hadn’t decided to turn around on a foggy night on the Atlantic, risking insurance complications, collision at sea, delayed arrival to France, and more, more than 730 Andrea Doria survivors may not have been saved.