Monday, October 19, 2009

May 15, 1934... A bad day for the RMS Olympic (sister ship to the Titanic) and the Nantucket light ship 117

A photograph taken on board the Nantucket lightship in 1933 of the RMS Olympic racing past. The following year she would not race past but go right through the light ship.

All the approaches to New York in the early to mid 20th century were marked by lightships, and the trick was for a ship to find the radio signal of the light ship and sail for it.
The Olympic like all the other major ocean greyhounds had been known to pass close by these vessels. So close at times, it was rather frightening to the crews of the light ships.
In that area it was often foggy and visual sight of ships or light ships was not easy and at times impossible. But the practice was to sail straight at the lightship and then turn a short distance before they reached it.

On May 15, 1934, the Olympic, inbound in heavy fog, was honing in on the radio beacon of Lightship 117, the Nantucket lightship. The Olympic, commanded by Captain John Binks followed the beam a little too well and sliced right through the small lightship.
The 46,000 ton liner sliced the lightship like a warm knife through butter.
7 of the 11 man crew were killed or died shortly after. The ship was going too fast and when the lightship was noticed in front of them they tried to turn, but it was too late and they rammed the small vessel.

Sound's rather reminiscent of the disaster that befell her sister in 1912 doesn't it?

But in this case, it was a small ship that could not withstand the onrush of 66,000 gross tons, rather than a massive iceberg that was far more dense than any ocean liner could ever be.
The crash of the liner into the lightship caused all liners to slow down a bit in that area. although there had been before and would continue several near misses over the years. Today light ships are not used in many areas as they were then. But there were many of them in service till the mid 20th century.

As for the Olympic she would sail for 11 more months and be retired in April of 1935. A victim of the economic depression and the merger with White Star and Cunard. By the time of the disaster she was a Cunard-White Star ship, not simple a White Star liner like her infamous sister. After 24 years of service and 23 years after her sister had been lost in the north Atlantic the Olympic was retired and soon after scrapped.