Rescue of Admiral Andrea Doria
by: Dennis F. Morse, Master Diver, U.S.N.
Man has been diving into the sea for thousands of years in search of treasure
and excitement. In past centuries, there has always been a world
recognized pinnacle. The twentieth century goal is now commonly known to
be the ANDREA
Whenever divers get together telling stories, eventually the talk turns
to the ANDREA DORIA and dreams to one day explore her.
My own experience started the day this beautiful ship made her final plunge.
I knew then I would always have a yearning within me until I dove to this
fiery dream burned within me throughout an eight year period in which I dove for
the U.S. Navy, constantly gaining experience as a professional underwater man.
My duty station in 1964 was a submarine rescue vessel - USS Skylark ASR-20.
board also, was "Doc" Heckert, who had in the past been involved with
Andrea Doria. A call to him from the Topcat Salvage Corp., for divers
began the fulfillment of my dream. HMC Doc Heckert, MRC Jim Noble,
BM3 John Grich and myself were granted fourteen days leave to dive on the ANDREA
The following day we arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts and signed on the
salvage ship, TOPCAT.
The next three days we made preparations for the dives. The job we hired
on to accomplish was to remove a statue of Admiral
Andrea Doria from
the sunken ship bearing his name. Having completed all preparations and
planning, the Topcat left New Bedford Thursday, 13 August 1964. Divers on
board were Doc Heckert, John Grich, crew member George Merchant and myself.
Jim Noble had been called back on naval business.
A fourteen hour trip saw us alongside a buoy previously tied to the bridge of
the sunken Andrea Doria, 240 feet below.
Immediately we launched three large rubber rafts. One raft mounting an
outboard motor would be used as a transport and the remaining two would be tied
to the buoy serving as a diving platform. Topcat would not be anchored.
enabling her to run interference between the rafts and numerous ships passing in
the busy shipping lanes.
Doc and George were suited up for the first dive. Their job was to move
the line from the bridge to a point one deck below the third boat davit.
This new location was outside the first class lounge in which rested the statue
of Admiral Andrea Doria.
The divers' would go down, do their task, come up to 40 feet, select the
decompression schedule according to their bottom time and depth from a chart.
The divers then switch from Aqualung breathing to the decompression rigs tied at
40 feet. The reason for the shift is lack of air in the Aqualung. To
decompress, the diver waits for a varying time period at 30 foot, then 20 foot
and finally 10 foot stops.
Upon completing the job and their required decompression stops, Doc and George
surfaced telling us the line was in place and all was well. This was to be the
only dive Friday.
of the night was spent going over our plans and getting ready the next days
explosive charges. We would use explosives to blast through two walls into
the lounge when the statue rested.
Saturday, John and I suited up. Finally after eight years my desire
was to be satisfied. Our job was to survey the sight and plan for the
blast on the first wall. Down we went through schools of large fish which
habit the area. The first sighting of the wreck comes at 120 feet under
the surface. From this point the view enlarges as one descends deeper,
however ours was not a sightseeing trip so off to work we went. We reached
the side of the vessel, cleared away loose wreckage and marked the area where
the explosives were to be placed.
It was then time to return to the surface from the most memorable dive of my
life. Next the Doc-George team carried down the charges and placed them.
Upon completing their decompression and getting in the boat, we hooked the wires
to the battery., Who-o-o-mmm went the explosives sending a column of water
and air bubbles high into the air showering us happy divers. We then
returned to the Topcat for a wait of six hours which would allow our bodies to
give off excess nitrogen from the dives and permit the silt on the Andrea Doria
to settle. Within five minutes, dead fish started bobbing to the surface
and the sharks appeared to feast upon them. An awful sight to us, knowing
we would return to the troubled water in six hours.
To pass time, we killed fifteen sharks from 10 foot to 12 foot in length and cut
out many souvenir teeth. We remained in our diving suits during this purge
and when it was time to dive, realized w were pretty well covered with blood.
As the time for the dive neared, the apprehension grew. Just prior to the
next dive, we washed our diving suits to remove blood with soap but this did
little to convince us that the sharks wouldn't eat us up as soon as we hit the
The apprehension was in vain though. John and I saw no sharks while we
cleared the debris and inspected our work. This ended Saturdays dives and
we returned very happy to the nearby vigilant Topcat. The following
morning. we made preparations to blast through the second and final wall.
John and George placed the large shearing charges, returned to the surface and
who-o-o-ommm again. Doc and I prepared to dive to inspect the blast.
When I jumped into the water, I hit something which turned out to be a shark.
It scared me, but him more, as he swam off rapidly not to return. We found
the charges had not done a complete job and further blasting would be required.
Six hours later, John and George placed another set of shear charges, surfaced,
and set them off. Who-o-ommm, water, dead fish and more sharks again.
Monday produced foul weather but we did manage to get one dive to clear the
wreckage, Upon surfacing in a near gale, the divers informed us the hole was
beautiful land we now had access to the lounge.
Tuesday allowed us three dives. The first one by Doc and myself was to find the
statue. Our safety plan was for one man to remain at the rim of the second
hole, which was at 180 feet, tending a 50 foot line secured to the other diver
who would enter further into the ship. The reason for this is the fact
that below 180 feet, nitrogen intoxicates the brain rendering it temporarily
useless. The statue we we knew was some thirty feet deeper inside the
black pit. I was to make the first excursion inside to search for the
admiral. In order to see within the near total blackness, I carried a
1,000 watt surface supplied divers light.
Once through the hole number two, I saw a wall ten feet below and knew we
weren't directly over the lounge. I chose one of two directions, headed
off and about 30 feet up the corridor I ran into a large open space full of
ornamented stairways. This didn't jive with our assumptions, so I turned
about and made off in the other direction. About 40 feet in the opposite
direction, the wall below dropped straight down. I knew that this vertical
wall was the one on which the statue was located. Four pulls on the line
told me time was up and we must return to the surface. After
decompression, we briefed John and George and down they went. George
remained at 180 feet and John entered the hole heading in the instructed
direction. He reached the drop off and started his way down feeling as he
went. Twenty fee lower, John felt the statue and wrapped the light cord
around the Admiral's neck. The divers came out after decompressing, happy
as could be. Success was now in sight. We all spent a joyous six
hours waiting to dive again. The next dive, I remained at 180 feet and Doc
went in the pit with a line which would go around the Admiral's neck giving us a
permanent traveling line. Doc got the line hooked in and accidentally
dropped the light. He swam down after it running into mud at 240 feet.
Meanwhile the light sunk into the mud creating total blackness for the now
distressed diver. In trouble at 240 feet with increased intoxication from
the nitrogen, surrounded by total darkness and mud, his instinct told him to
give four pulls on the line. When I pulled him back through the hole.
The smile was noticeable despite the breathing mouthpiece. We had 10
minutes left so, I went in the pit, pulled up the light, hung it over the statue
and checked the traveling line. My air now ran out and I shifted my lung
to the 5 minutes reserve and started up. About to pass through the hole, I
felt ,I felt a tug on my back and realized I was caught in the line. Doc
cleared this and we started up. Needless to say, we were both extremely
happy to get away unharmed with this dive.
The next morning, John entered the hole, with George as safety man, pulling two
1/4 inch stainless steel cables. The idea was to pass the cables down the
statue's back, through the crotch, up the front and around the neck. This would
permanently harness our prize. The other end of the cables were shackled
to the line we traveled up and down on. John near completed this task before
time ran out. Doc and I went next. finishing the hook-up. It
was now time for one six hour surface interval. The first dive in the
afternoon was made by John and George with the latter inside checking the
harnessing job. Upon surfacing, George reported the cable had been passed
through some sort of bracket, which supported the statue midway up the back.
I went in the hole next with Doc as safety and decided we would have to hacksaw
loose the two sides of this hindrance. Thursday, I made the first trip
into the pit and sawed one side loose in the allotted time. We now
surfaced then George went down into the pit with John tending and sawed the
other side free. During our six hour rest, we knew that the statue would
soon be ours. We had found, to remove the entire statue and base,
would require blasting into an elevator shaft which time did not permit.
The only course of action was to hacksaw the admiral free at the ankles.
The first dive of the afternoon, Doc commenced to saw on the lower leg. He
sawed about 1/3 of the way through before time ran out.
John and George Made the next trip down picking up where we left off nearly
completing the lower leg on this dive.
The next morning I finished sawing the last bit of the lower leg and started on
the upper. The following dive, George completed 1/2 of this cut in his
allotted time. Six hours later it was Doc's turn to saw and he cut to the
3/4 mark, dropping the hacksaw on the way out. Our hacksaw now gone and a
set of divers ready to go cause us to side track and have them look for the gift
shop in the stern of the ship. This dive was to no avail and did little to
lift our spirits. The TOPCAT immediately got under way for the Coast Guard
light ship in the area and successfully borrowed another hacksaw.
Saturday morning, Doc and I went to make final adjustments in the lift wires and
check all rigging. When we surfaced, John and George dove and sawed the
remaining upper leg almost through. Upon completing the six hour rest, we
went in to finish the cut which would free the statue. Doc cut through in
short order and the statue now hung in our cable harness. The next dive
which was to be our last was made by John and George. Their job was to
attach deflated lift bags to the end of the cables and inflate then with air.
Strangely enough when they started down, a shark followed them and circled
around during the entire dive. When they started up after completing the
job, old shark followed right along. When they reached 40 feet, the signal
was given to bring down the decompression rigs. I saw the signal . . . .
and the shark, causing me a bit of apprehension about going down but they needed
air so in I went. I met the divers at 30 feet gave them the decompression
rigs and pointed to the beast. I waited till I figured the evil animal
wasn't looking and shot back into the boat like a rocket. John and George
had to stay as decompression was required for them. The shark circled at
the 30 and 20 foot stops but then became aggressive at 10 feet.
The divers dodged two vicious attacks then picking the lesser of two evils,
literally jumped into the boat from 10 feet leaving the shark to his domain.
Now having omitted portions of their decompression a six hour treatment in
the recompression chamber was required. We sped to the TOPCAT and jammed
the two men into the one man recompression chamber. To this day I
still believe this shark was the resting ships last fight and warning to us to
leave the statue alone.
We now pulled in the descending line until the statue was along side the TOPCAT.
It was then a simple matter of hooking the crane into the wire cable harness and
hoisting our hard won prize aboard. Over the rail he came and into our
Meanwhile, John and George were still under treatment in the crowded
recompression chamber. They entered the chamber at 06:30 PM and were due
out at 12:54 AM Sunday morning. Theirs was an extended wait to see the
statue but the news it was on board made them equally happy making their long
cramped stay in the chamber bearable. Once the statue was aboard and
lashed down, we got the TOPCAT underway for New Bedford. Doc and I took
turns tending the recompression chamber with the men inside. Upon
release from the chamber, the divers had no complaints indicating the treatment
had worked perfectly and warded off the dreaded bends.
We docked in New Bedford at 1:00PM , Sunday experiencing a let down knowing our
adventure was over.
The statue now rests in a motel outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as a memento
of our efforts, but the ANDREA DORIA is still in the deeps awaiting further
adventures. My great desire was finally satisfied, but deep within me is a
new yearning, one day to return and rescue the Admiral's rightful home.