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Canadian Connections to the Reina del Pacifico disaster

The H&W built ship's engine room exploded leaving 28 dead.

Reina del Pacifico

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My name is Ann Downey and I live in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. My father originally came from Ballycarry, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He met my mother in 1953 while she was on holiday in Northern Ireland, and then followed her back to Canada in 1954 where they were married. They have lived in Canada ever since.

My father's name is Robert Gamble Downey. He worked for Harland & Wolff, and in 1947 at the age of 21, was working in the engine room when the explosion on the Reina Del Pacifico occurred.

My father was a survivor of the accident in 1947. He will be 78 years old on May 24th of this year. He is now retired but his working life was spent in boiler machinery. We were all raised with many fascinating stories as well as the tragic accident of 1947. (In addition, we were also told that my great-grandfather worked on the building of the Titanic.)

I have enclosed three excerpts, one from the Maritime IT and Electronics Journal Jan/Feb 2003 issue, the second from the official inquiry "Report of Court", No. 7951, and third, from The Belfast Weekly Telegraph, September 19, 1947. I thought you may find them of interest.

Maritime IT & Electronics Jan/Feb 2003

"An unfortunate ‘9/11’ from an earlier age —11 September 1947 — On the day in question a bearing failure in the port outer engine on passengership Reina del Pacifico, engaged in sea trails after a refit in Belfast, caused a crankcase explosion in that engine. Hot mist and combustion products ingested into the other three diesels caused those engines to explode too.

The resulting carnage left 28 dead."

From the official inquiry into the accident, "Report of Court", No. 7951, adds the following details:

"The Reina del Pacifico, built and engined by Harland & Wolff in Belfast in 1931, had been owned by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company for 17 years at the time of the accident. Since her delivery, she had been employed as a passenger liner between the United Kingdom and the west coast of South America except for a period during the Second World War when she was requisitioned as a troop transport by the British Government. Classified 100A1, the ship was certified to carry 886 passengers and 301 crew, and was registered at the port of Liverpool.

The accident occurred approximately 7 miles north east of Copeland Island in the North Channel of the Irish Sea at 16:46 on 11 September 1947."

The Belfast Weekly Telegraph reported a week after the accident, on 19 September 1947:

"In an instant the engine room was a shambles, the lighting extinguished, ladders and access platforms destroyed and the atmosphere thick with smoke. When rescuers entered the engine room they found fires breaking out and bodies everywhere. The appalling result was that twenty-eight people died, either instantly or from their injuries, and a further twenty-three were hurt. "

"HEROIC SERVICE ... For three hours, Dr. Hamilton, in his first medical appointment, worked like a Trojan. He had himself lowered into the devastated engine room and with the assistance of the First Officer waded knee-deep in oil and other debris while striving to free those who were trapped. Then he organised a first aid service in the second class lounge, while stewards tore sheets and tablecloths into bandages. He is estimated to have bandaged nearly 60 men himself."

"RELATIVES' VIGIL . . . It was an anxious day for relatives of those on the ship last Friday. Many made a round of the hospitals and the city mortuary seeking friends. At one time five bodies were unidentified at the mortuary, but by Saturday afternoon all had been identified."

"From all parts of the United Kingdom letters of sympathy have [sic] been received. For several days the Union Jack at the City Hall was flown at half mast. Sympathy to the relatives of the bereaved was also expressed by the Prime Minister, Sir Basil Brooke ...."

My parents have a home in Whitehead, County Antrim where they go on holiday twice a year. They are here at present as well as myself, my sister and her husband and family. Our parents are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary this year, and we have all come to Ireland to celebrate with them.

More links

click here to go YPAM Harland and Wolff pages

click here to read how the Reina del Pacifico was used during one wartime passage to Ceylon.

click here to read 'Forgotten Deaths on the Titanic'.

(photo of Reina Del Pacifico courtesy of Merv Wildy at http://members.dodo.net.au/~mervynw/)

 


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