Home > SS Noronic disaster in 1949....
Click image to enlarge 564664
Show image list »

SS Noronic disaster in 1949....

Item # 564664

September 18, 1949

THE NEW YORK TIMES, New York, September 18, 1949

* SS Noronic disaster
* Passenger cruise ship
* Toronto Harbor canada

This 100+ page newspaper has a nice five column headline on the front page: "207 LOST AS A CRUISE SHIP BURNS IN NIGHT FIRE AT TORONTO PIER; SCORES LEAP OFF; 110 IN HOSPITALS" with subheads that include: "Passengers Are Roused by Flames Starting Near Vessel's Bar" and more with related photo. (see)

Tells of the SS Noronic fire disaster.

Other news of the day throughout. Rag edition in great condition.

wikipedia notes: On September 14, 1949, the Noronic embarked on a 7-day pleasure cruise of Lake Ontario from Detroit, Michigan. The ship was to make two overnight stops in Canada before returning to Detroit. Most of her 524 passengers were Americans, and 171 crew members were aboard as well. The captain on the voyage was Capt. William Taylor.

The Noronic docked for the night at Pier 9 in Toronto Harbour on the evening of Friday, September 16.
Minutes after the first alarm

At 2:30 a.m., passenger Don Church noticed smoke in the aft part of the starboard corridor on C-deck. Church followed the smell of smoke to a small room off the port corridor, just forward of a women’s washroom. Finding that the smoke was coming from a locked linen closet, Church notified bellboy Earnest O’Neil of the fire. Without sounding the alarm, O’Neil ran to the steward’s office on D-deck to retrieve the keys to the closet. Once the closet was opened, the fire exploded into the hallway; it spread quickly, fuelled by the lemon-oil-polished wood panelling on the walls.

Church, O’Neil, another bellboy and another passenger attempted to fight the blaze with fire extinguishers, but were forced to retreat almost immediately by the spreading flames. To his dismay, O’Neil found the ship’s fire hoses to be out of order. Church rushed to his stateroom on D-deck, and he, his wife and children quietly fled the ship.

O’Neil ran to the officers’ quarters and notified Captain Taylor. First Mate Gerry Wood then sounded the ship’s whistle to raise the alarm. It was 2:38 a.m., only eight minutes after the fire began, but already half of the ship’s decks were on fire.

Twenty seven year old Donald Williamson was the first rescuer on the scene. After working a late shift at the Goodyear Tire plant, the former lake freighter deckhand wanted to see the magnificent Noronic he knew was in port. He arrived to the sound of the ship’s distress whistle, as the fire was quickly growing and people were frantically jumping into the lake. Spotting a large painters’ raft nearby, he untied it and pushed it into a position near the ship’s port bow. As people leapt from the burning ship, he pulled them from the water to the safety of the raft.

Responding to a "routine" box call, Constables Ronald Anderson and Warren Shaddock turned their "accident" car onto Queen's Quay in time to see the ship erupt in flames as high as the mast. Their cruiser was immediately surrounded by survivors, many in shock, some on fire. A passenger alerted Anderson to those in the water and those on the decks, some in flames.

Anderson stripped his uniform off, jumped into the frigid, oily water, and began to assist Williamson on the raft. Detective Cyril Cole later joined them, swimming with survivors and bodies to the dock where other police officers hauled the injured up by rope to Shaddock and others who were administering first aid. Fireboats joined the rescue operation, plucking others who jumped into the water from the ship. Among those officers was Jack Marks who went on to become Toronto's Police Chief.

Crew members had to smash portholes to drag some passengers out of their cabins. Moments before the whistle sounded, the pier’s night watchman noticed the flames coming from the ship and called the Toronto Fire Department. A pumper truck, a hose wagon, a high-pressure truck, an aerial truck, a rescue squad, the deputy chief and a fireboat were dispatched to the scene. Ambulances and police were also dispatched. The first fire truck arrived at the pier at 2:41 a.m.
Passengers escape by rope

By this time, the entire ship was consumed in flames. Crew members had failed to make a sweep of the upper four decks to wake passengers; those who did wake up were awakened by screaming and running in the corridors. Most of the ship’s stairwells were on fire, and few passengers were able to reach E-deck to escape down the gangplanks. Some passengers climbed down ropes to the pier.

The scene was later described as one of great panic, with people jumping from the upper decks engulfed in flames, some falling to their deaths onto the pier below. Others were trampled to death in the mad rush of terrified passengers in the corridors. Still others suffocated or were burned alive, unable to exit their cabins. The screams of the dying were said to overpower even the sounds of whistles and sirens.

The first rescue ladder was extended to B-deck. It was immediately rushed by passengers, causing the ladder to snap in two. The women were sent tumbling into the harbour, where they were rescued by a waiting fireboat. Other ladders extended to C-deck held firm throughout the rescue.
A fire boat fights the blaze

After about 20 minutes, the metal hull was white hot, and the decks began to buckle and collapse onto each other. After an hour of fighting the blaze, the Noronic was so full of water from fire hoses that it listed severely toward the pier, causing firefighters to retreat. The ship then righted itself, and firefighters returned to their original positions. By the end, more than 1.7 million gallons (6.4 million litres) of water had been poured on the ship from 37 hoses.

The fire was extinguished by 5:00 a.m., and the wreckage was allowed to cool for two hours before the recovery of bodies began. Searchers found a gruesome scene inside the burned-out hull. Firefighters reported finding charred, embracing skeletons in the corridors. Some deceased passengers were found still in their beds. Many skeletons were almost completely incinerated. Glass had melted from every window, and even steel fittings had warped and twisted from the heat.

Every stairwell had been completely destroyed, save for one near the bow.

Category: The 20th Century

No Longer Available