In the archives of...
Life: Loomis Dean
The Andrea Doria
Cover of LIFE magazine dated 08-06-1956 w. headline "Rescue at Sea" showing lifeboat leaving sinking ship Andrea Doria; photo by Loomis Dean.
Since Jonah met the whale, distress at sea has made riveting stories.Loomis Dean recalled his ringside position after the Swedish ocean liner Stockholm knifed into Italy’s Andrea Doria off Nantucket Island in 1956. The Andrea Doria sank 11 hours after the collision. Official blame for the accident, in which 53 people died, was never determined.
Loomis Dean: When I transferred to Life magazine’s Paris bureau, my family and I had two first-class cabins on the Ile de France. On the first night out from New York, we had a few drinks with Life’s publisher, Andrew Heiskell who was going on vacation. I got my kids to bed as early as I could, and my wife and me too. About midnight Andy rapped on my door in his pajamas. He said, “It looks to me like there's a shipwreck out there. Maybe we ought to make a few snaps.”
There was a boat all lit up about a half a mile away. We tried to get on a lifeboat going over to pick people up, but they wouldn't let us. The first people off the Andrea Doria were the Italian crew. I looked at the Italian photographer, and he was immaculate in his whites and everything. I said, “Did you make any pictures?”
“Hell, no, the boat's sinking,” he said.
We found three Austrians, exchange students at Northwestern. I said, ‘Did you get any pictures?’
One said, “I think I did.” We handed over a fistful of $50 bills. It was a gold mine. Any disasters, you have to figure on some passengers getting pictures, because every third person has a camera. We bought some other pictures too, but it was the Austrian’s that showed them getting in the lifeboats and all that sort of thing.
From the deck I could see the Stockholm too. It was a beautiful white boat. Its whole bow was knocked off, but it was upright.
I shot everything down below when passengers arrived from the Andrea Doria. You couldn't make any sense out of the Italians. They were screaming and yelling, and the captain of the Ile de France rounded up all the priests—there were nine of them aboard—and said, “You go take care of those Italians.” Which they did.
JL: The picture of the Andrea Doria on Life’s August 6, 1956 cover shows the ship listing on its side at dawn. The last of the Ile de France’s lifeboats is coming back.
Loomis Dean: I thought it was a hell of a color picture with all those lights reflected in the water. All the rest I shot in black and white.
JL: Was there excitement about your pictures?
Loomis Dean: Sure, there was excitement. Life’s picture editor, Ray Mackland, called on the ship-to-shore phone. Trying to put a little humor in it, I said, “Ray, you won't believe this, but I slept through it all.” [Laughs] We arrived back in New York later that day, so the people we had rescued could disembark. My family stayed onboard, but I got off to develop my film, and I flew over later. I never did get a chance to take an ocean liner to Europe.
[Interview dated November 4, 1993 was printed in full in the Bulfinch Press book, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, in 1998. Photograph, by Loomis Dean © 1956 Time Inc., is courtesy The LIFE Gallery of Photography.]