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10 Of The Most Dramatic Rescue Missions From History

Disasters, both natural and manmade, are part of the human experience. But as well as misery and death, catastrophes can also produce incredible stories of courage and resourcefulness. We’ve dug through the archives and picked out ten accounts of remarkable rescue missions from history. So read on to learn about the outstanding bravery and the sometimes tragic results of desperate attempts to rescue people in severe danger.

1. SS Andrea Doria

On a summer’s morning in 1956 like many other vessels the cruise liner SS Andrea Doria was sailing in the busy sea lanes that run along America’s north-east coast. One of the other ships sailing in the same part of the Atlantic was another passenger liner, MS Stockholm IV.

While the Andrea Doria, an Italian ship, was nearing the end of its voyage from Italy to New York, the Stockholm, a Swedish vessel, had just set off from New York bound for Sweden. Nobody aboard either vessel had any idea that the two ships were due for an entirely unwelcome and deadly encounter in a matter of hours. 

The ships

Sailing for the Italian Line, the 697-foot SS Andrea Doria had made her maiden voyage from Genoa, Italy, to New York in 1953. The luxury cruiser featured no fewer than three outdoor pools and as the History website notes, it was decorated with a “dazzling array of paintings, tapestries and surrealist murals.” It also featured “a life-sized bronze statue of the ship’s namesake, a 16th-century Genoese navigator.”

The MS Stockholm sailed for the Swedish American Line, which had taken delivery of the cruise ship in 1948. With a bow-to-stern length of 525 feet and a passenger capacity of 395 she was relatively small for the route she plied from Gothenburg, Sweden, to New York City. But the Stockholm also made other cruises, taking passengers from New York around the Caribbean.

The encounter

The Andrea Doria had embarked from Genoa for a nine-day cruise to New York on July 17, 1956, stopping at three Mediterranean ports before heading for her 101st Atlantic crossing, with Captain Piero Calamai at the helm. The liner, which carried 1,134 passengers and a crew of 572, was off Nantucket by July 25.

On that same July day the Stockholm was also sailing off the Nantucket coast. She had departed that morning from New York City for her 103rd transatlantic voyage to Gothenburg and was being skippered by Captain Gunnar Nordensson. Like the Andrea Doria’s Captain Calamai, he was a highly experienced mariner.


The Andrea Doria was the first to notice that the Stockholm was in her vicinity, spotting her on the ship’s radar at 10:45 p.m. At this point the Swedish vessel had been some 17 nautical miles distant. Shortly afterwards the Stockholm’s radar revealed the presence of the Andrea Doria. But even although they both had the benefit of radar readings, something now went badly wrong in the fog that engulfed both ships.

The Stockholm’s third officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen was on watch and he decided that the Andrea Doria was approaching to his left. That meant the two would pass port-to-port sides. But aboard the Andrea Doria Captain Calamai believed the Stockholm was on his right, so they would pass starboard-to-starboard. The scene was set for disaster.