Interview With Andrea Doria Survivor Klaus Dorneich Offers A First-Hand Account and Reflections


Last year the German publishing house „Time Bridge“ ( has produced a THREE-CD-AUDIO-BOOK for his series “Wissen” (knowledge) under the title “The Titanic and other Lostliners”. About the fate of 7 famous passenger steamers that were all sunk within the last century. Among them, of course, the ANDREA DORIA who sank after the collision with the Stockholm in 1956. As the only German eyewitness, I had the privilege to cooperate on base of 2 original audio-interviews (from 1956 and 2012). This audio package is now sold in Germany and can also be loaded down from internet. As preparation for CHAPTER 7 (Andrea Doria) an interview was made with me that I would like to share with you now in a condensed way:

Dr Dorneich, you were once the only German survivor on board the sinking Andrea Doria in 1956 – can one compare the “Andrea Doria” with the “Costa Concordia”, another Italian passenger ship that recently sank off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean under similar circumstances ?

Perhaps you will remember that in passed times there already existed movie films about the “Titanic” that sank within hours after a collision, although it is hard to believe! Nevertheless, the mishap of the C.C. that occurred in 2011 has touched me profoundly. Most of all, of course, the fate of so many trapped passengers, but also of the ship´s captain who became the object of harsh criticism. This was not so much the case after the sinking of the “Andrea Doria”. Commodore Piero Calamai at the time was a highly respected Sea captain from a prominent sea-faring family line in Genoa, with many decorations and long years on the bridge of Transatlantic passenger Liners. He too was once criticized but mainly for his information policy after the collision. Apparently, the “bridge people” still believe that they can avoid panic by relaying as little as possible information to the passengers. When on the “Andrea Doria” the final signal (!) came “All people off board”, the reaction of the passengers was literally devastating. Nobody had really thought that could be possible again, especially not at midnight on high Sea!

In New York, the Maritime Court was mainly concerned with the question “who was responsible for the crash”. Later on, 1957 in London, a settlement agreement found the Italians as responsible for 60% and the Swedes for 40% of the resulting damages. This “verdict” of 1957 would probably be totally different today! Because it is known that the Swedes had a relatively young First Officer alone on the bridge who erred at radar and selected a wrong course during that fateful night! When he realized that he was probably on a collision course, he again changed route without consulting his Captain Olsen, but it was already too late and everything then turned real worse. That´s why I think another damage settlement would end possibly differently today ….
The Andrea Doria in turn was probably wrong among other things, i.e. by storing the passenger life vests (orange) only in the cabins. When the emergency became evident, I and many others were already on deck and had no chance any more to rush down to their cabins to fetch things! Of course, my first thought was “And now?” Perhaps it will amuse you but I found myself a wooden deckchair and thought this could be practical at floating if we all had to jump into the water! Incidentally, the COLOR OF LIFE VESTS later played a peculiar role! Contrary to the passengers (orange), the “Crew” had gray vests! When the Swedes later saw that the first arriving life boats had only people with gray vests on, the Captain initially refused acceptance to come on board the Stockholm and is said to have ordered “Passengers first – go back and fetch them!” instead. But the “Crew” did not mind much – they just waited patiently in their boats until they were allowed to come on board eventually. Thus you can see how important life vests are – storing them in cabins only might be the easiest, but certainly not the most effective way …

Yes, unfortunately that´s true! But one has to differentiate between regular sea professionals (sailors) and serving personnel. The latter were mostly service people – waiters, cabin stewards, kitchen personnel etc., among them many women. Obviously, this group of people has not the same ethic principles that regular sailors and ship officers have. These, “the real crew”, have undoubtedly done a tremendous job at saving people trapped in their cabins, lowering the Doria boats and rowing people to safety – although the ship had already lost half of its live boats because it listed too heavily and too soon to lower them – all this under the danger of life for themselves and the passengers!

As I already mentioned, it was one of the tragedies on board that there was not enough communication from the Bridge. One could see and hear that something dreadful had happened, but what it really was and how it should be treated was not clear for a long time! Main languages on board were English and Italian – French or even German was not among those. I was one of the German-speaking group (including Swiss and Austrians), but as it turned out, the only German passenger on board. I had of course understood everything, except the tone signals. For instance the signal “Sauve qui peut” (all people off ship) had to be explained to me by a steward! By the way, this was the very first time that it became clear to me in what desperate circumstances we all were ….

This was, at the time, another exciting occurrence! When the ship grew more listing from minute to minute, the passengers panicked and went up to their decks en masse to see what really happened and if they could reach their life boats. But they soon realized that, because of the listing (and the slippery night fog), it was difficult to walk on deck and furthermore, half the boats could no longer be used (lowered to the water). Now everything happened only on the lower side and some people tried to get to the boats by force and wild cries! My friend Boris and I tried to “save the children first” by lowering them with thin ropes that we had cut from the wind-protection canvases along the deck reeling – some of the children even upside down! The mothers cheered when the children were accepted down there by sailors into the safety of boats. After all the children on our section on deck were gone, only an old grandpa was left whom we knew that he was blind! We nevertheless pushed him over the reeling and lowered him just the same, but he was too heavy and the thin lines broke! He fell into one boat and messed up his face with blood – we did not dare to look at him from above but he was safe now! Apparently, the ship was listing so fast because the Doria was hit by the Stockholm exactly into some of her almost empty fuel tanks on one side and that caused the sea water to rush in by force. That seems to be the cause of the fatal listings and was, as far as we know, eventually the beginning of the end. In fact, some rescue incidents had a peculiar influence on me. I recently read in a newspaper article that the little girl from the Andrea Doria who died in a Boston hospital (Norma) had a sister that was not born yet at the time. She has now written a book about the sinking on her insight and on the stories her parents had told her. Then she dedicated the finished book especially to her little dead sister, in order to tell her about all things that happened afterwards. Another incident was also unforgettable for me. As the collision had taken place relatively close to the American coast, a number of smaller (press) airplanes reached the spot rather quickly. Especially the yellow helicopters of the American Coast Guards came soon to bring wounded passengers of the Stockholm to the mainland. The Swedish nurses there had all hands full to do to give first aid to them but the medical doctor on boards finally decided to call the Coast guards for the more seriously wounded. After arrival, the Copter pilots simply “parked” their machines over the fore deck and pulled the wounded people by cable on board. In this way, I believe, 8 or 10 people were flown to a Boston hospital, among them the little child Norma – R.i.P.

By the time Boris and I decided to leave the ship, too, the Swedish captain had already ordered his life boats on water, after he was assured that although his ship was badly hurt too, it would not sink! These boats were smaller than ours and had to be rowed by Swedish sailors

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. That was a hard job, because in the course of the night, the waves became higher and the sight was dim because of the fog. After a while, a Swedish motor boat found us (and another boat) and pulled us by rope through the night. But the ropes broke several times and it took them a while to find us again. That’s why we came on board rather late, almost at dawn – all seasick and scantily clad …

Next morning, we could see the Doria rather clearly from the Stockholm deck. On high sea, however, it is not easy to judge distances, but I believe we were only 5 to 10 km apart. When we saw her again at dawn, nobody even thought that we could possibly loose her! It became 6 o`clock, 8 and 10 a.m. and then everything suddenly started to get hectic. Now we could clearly see that she was really sinking – it was even confirmed over the loudspeaker! Everybody ran to the deck reeling although it was very hot that morning – the Stockholm had not moved yet. Exactly like the “Titanic” or now the Costa Concordia (CC) in the Mediterranean, minutes after the sinking started, only debris parts and air foams of the ship remained on the surface, so it seemed – visible for most people. Nevertheless, ten hours after collision, on the 26th of July 1956, at 10:10h a.m. and after even the captain had left his ship, our beautiful “Andrea Doria” had suddenly completely disappeared from the Ocean within a couple of minutes and was gone forever! Just foam and wreck parts were visible on the spot – I could not believe my eyes! Some deep-sea explorers and divers like Peter A. Gimbel saw her again one week later with their cameras in about 200 feet depth, lying on the Ocean floor on one side, apparently completely intact and seemingly peacefully sleeping – an extraordinary photo picture, sad but stunning! On all following pictures, the decay of time is already clearly visible as the ship was never raised so far …

In that summer of 1956 it took us almost three days until the Stockholm arrived at the Swedish pier in New York! The ship had lost almost 10 m of its bow and still had to be made sea-worthy again for various hours, before it could be moved again – naturally very slowly! That we arrived so late was insofar bad luck for me, because my family at home in Freiburg could not be notified earlier! Most of the other survivors, especially on board the “Ile de France”, had already sent their sea cables three days earlier! I myself also tried to send a telegram from the “Stockholm”, but understandably, the cable room there had other things to do than sending private telegrams abroad. This three-day delay was not easy for my parents. However, I was still a young man, 26 years old and unmarried, so I did not have much to worry about – although I had lost everything (including my Air France ticket to Mexico City). A nice story was told me afterwards from my younger brothers at home. A few months before my departure to Genoa, I had been in Barcelona and used the occasion to let a Spanish Taylor make me a Tuxedo (dinner jacket) for the crossing. One of my brothers was obviously very impressed with that and had told my parents that he would not believe that I didn´t survive until he had seen a picture of me struggling with the Ocean waves in my white dinner jacket …



Courtesy of Facebook page, Captain Piero Calamai and Matteo Albertini

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