Review of Collision Course by Alvin Moscow
The appeal of disaster stories lies in the details of the how and why but also in learning about the people who are affected. Who was at fault? What steps could have been taken to avert tragedy? What were the consequences? Alvin Moscow attempts to answer these questions in the book Collison Course, which tells the story of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm, two passenger ships that collided off the coast of Nantucket on July 25, 1956.
The Stockholm was outbound from the United States and the Andrea Doria was inbound after a long journey across the Atlantic. As with any good disaster story, the author introduces us to select passengers and crew aboard both ships. The reader also learns about the history of the two ships. Once the author completes those essential tasks, the story is set in motion.
There was fog in the area at the time of the collision, but the fog is not the primary factor that led to the disaster. Instead, it was a series of unfortunate decisions by the two captains and their crews. Both ships had radar, which should have rendered fog as nothing more than an inconvenience. But the radars were only as good as the men interpreting the radar returns. The author goes into great detail about who turned in what direction and when, but trying to follow it on the page, without a corresponding map, was difficult. The best I could determine was that both ships were sailing head on, or fairly close to head on, when first detected by radar. The collision was the result of the crews of both ships not fully understanding the intentions and movements of the other.
Regardless of who was at fault, once the two ships collide, the story of rescue and survival is as riveting as any of the best disaster stories. As in James Cameron’s fictional retelling of the Titanic sinking, there are stories of people trapped by debris and attempts by others to free them. Some are successful; some are not. Unlike the Titanic, rescue ships arrive on scene shortly after the impact. The numerous stories of rescue and survival are expertly told.
The final chapters deal with the aftermath of the tragedy and attempts by both professional and amateur divers to visit the watery grave of the Andrea Doria.
First published in 1960, long before eBooks and the benefits of the “long tail,” which allows books to live on indefinitely, Collision Course has been brought back to life for a new audience. That doesn’t lessen the quality of the book. A good story is a good story.