Buffalo, NY Barge And Freighter Collide, Oct 1951


Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 30 (UP) -- Coast Guard investigators said today 17 men were dead or missing in the harbor collision-explosion-fire of a barge loaded with 3,500,000 gallons of gasoline and a 4000-ton Great Lakes freighter. Fifteen seamen were injured and eight escaped unharmed.
The 120-foot barge Morania, being pushed by the tug Dauntless, collided with the steamer Penobscot just inside the Buffalo breakwall about 300 yards off shore last night. Fuel aboard the barge exploded and sent a wall of flame shooting over all three vessels.
Three seamen were known dead, their charred bodies recovered from ships' cabins. A fourth seaman aboard the Morania was missing and presumed dead on the strength of a fellow crewman's statement to authorities.
Six members of the Dauntless' crew of eight were missing, and Coast Guard officials now said seven seamen from the Penobscot's crew of 30 were unaccounted for.
Coast Guard crash boats searched for additional victims or survivors. Fearful that many of the missing had drowned when they leaped into the water to escape the flames, Coast Guardsmen said they would grapple for bodies in the vicinity of the collision.
Four separate fires flickered from the Morania at dawn as firemen prepared to spray it with foamite from a landing barge.
The Penobscot, with its charred and collapsed superstructure, had been towed to the American Shipbuilding company's drydock. The charred tug Dauntless was grounded where it burned, in shallow water near the harbor breakwall.
The coast guard ordered closing of the Black Rock ship canal, which runs north, adjacent to the Niagara River, because o the possibility of a navigation hazard from gasoline flowing from the burning barge Morania.
Twenty-three seamen escaped safely. These included 21 from the Penobscot, and one each from the Dauntless and the Morania.
Fifteen men were injured but none seriously when the ships collided head-on about 9 o'clock last night.
When the freighter started to back clear, a spark ignited the gasoline aboard the barge. Flames leaped hundreds of feet into the air and swept all three vessels. Fire alarms were turned in as far as 15 miles away.
The skipper of the 454-foot Penobscot, Capt. LOUIS GYETTE, 51, of Port Huron, Mich., was credited with saving the lives of 21 men aboard his vessel. With flames seething around him, he backed the Penobscot into the harbor breakwater so the crew could slide down ropes to safety.
GYETTE and his helmsman, ROY RICHARDSON
56, also of Port Huron, died in the flames. Their bodies were recovered from the charred pilot house after the fire had been put out. Four Penobscot crewmen were missing. The Penobscot is owned by the Nicholson Line of Detroit.
Of the eight men aboard the tug Dauntless, only Capt. THOMAS SORENSON, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was saved when the vessel burned to the waterline. One charred body was recovered from the tug. Seven crewmen were missing and it was believed they had jumped into the rough waters of the harbor and had drowned. The tug was owned by the Dauntless Towing Co. of New York City.
Only two crewmen were aboard the barge Morania, owned by the Morania Oil Tanker Corp. of New York City. One of them, LARS STROMSLAND, of Port Huron, managed to escape after the explosion. Hospitalized in a state of shock, he told police his fellow crewmen died in the blast.
Coast Guard Marine inspectors began a preliminary investigation.
Thousands of persons swarmed to the waterfront to watch the gasoline flames from the barge, which continued to burn throughout the night.

Lowell Sun Massachusetts 1951-10-30


The 1951 Dauntless accident

I am also one of Capt. T. Sorensen's (Capt of the Dauntless) grandaughters. He was able to swim under the water but at times had to go up for air through the flames. He made it to shore with one of his crew member. He was hospitalized with burns. It was about 3 days before he was able to contact his wife and three girls that he had survived. According to an eye witness report in the paper, 'The Evening News' Tuesday, Oct 30,1951, Tonawanda, NY, Capt Fletcher Booth of the tug California stated that he had taken the Penobscot to harbor entrance and had released her aprox 30min before the explosion. He was one of the first rescue boats to arrive. He reported that he saw the Penobscot ram the gasoline barge. He had stated that he was close enough to hear someone shout, "give us a shove at the stern" but it was to late suddenly the blast had engulfed the whole forward end of the freighter, He was able to rescue crewmen from the freighter but not from the barge or the tug. The flames were to intense. He said he could see 5-6 crewmen jump into the water from the Dauntless. Afterwards my Grandfather was indeed tried and found innocent. He continued to work as a respected and honorable Capt until he retired in the 1970's. In a news report in the, ' Ogdensburg Advance News' NY Sunday Nov 4th 1951 it stated that the cause of the collision was due to a 'steering mechanism failure' on the Penobscott. At the inquiry my Grandfather said that " the Penobscot swung to the right of its course" and that " his tug and tow could have gotten past the Penobscot bow if the freighter had not veered" Later, Two wheelsman from the Penobscott testified at the inquiry. Floyd Jackman and Thomas Cree who were off duty at time of the crash and escaped without serious injury. Jackman said that the Penobscot wheel had locked in his hands about 4 month earlier in Lake Superior and Cree testified that it had locked on him about three years before. Linda Jacobsen-Monsen

Penobscot-Dauntless-Moravia accident report

The marine board of investigation report is online at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/docs/boards/penobscot.pdf

Dauntless boating accident 1951

My grandfather Torbjorn (Thomas) Sorensen was the captain of the Dauntless at the time of the accident. He was prosecuted for the accident and was found innocent. He was able to swim with one of his dead crew to safety. He said he did this because he wanted the man's family to be able to obtain his life insurance as soon as possible. He also said this man died of a heart attack, not from the flames. If you have any other info, please do share it with me. Thank you. Barbara Veneziano