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With the loss of 852 lives and just 137 survivors, the sinking of the Estonia remains by far the worst maritime disaster to have happened in Europe since 1945.
Essentially, the bow visor and ramp detached during a storm in the Baltic, thus allowing the sea to flood the car decks. The ship took almost immediately a sharp list to starboard, which within fifteen minutes had already become 60 degrees. Half an hour after the initial list, the Estonia was lying on her side. Most of the passengers and crew were not even able to climb outside before the list became too sharp to allow any escape; little more than 300, out of 989, managed to climb outside, but the list prevented any of the lifeboats from being launched. Some liferafts were launched, and others detached and inflated automatically as the ship sank, but most of them were waterfilled or overturned, and many of those who managed to climb aboard succumbed to hypothermia, as did pretty much all those who weren’t able to climb inside a raft (one man survived without having ever been on a raft: second engineer Peeter Tuur, picked up by a ferry after spending two hours in the water). Part of the survivors were rescued from the rafts by Swedish and Finnish rescue helicopters, others were picked up by the ferries Mariella, Silja Europa and Isabella, which rushed to the scene.
My gosh, this happened within my lifetime and I’d literally not heard of it until now.
Heard and read some horrific accounts from the few survivors. There are some conspiracy theories surrounding the catastrophe. And the Swedish government are not allowing any investigations of the wreckage, even though the ship sank on international waters.
Here is an article published in 2004, which tells what happened based on survivor testimony.
A Sea Story
There are, as always in these disasters, some rather incredible survival stories.
For example, who do you think would fare the worst in such a disaster? The engineering crew, who were down in the engine room, in the bowels of the ship. Instead, all three men who were on duty in the engine room (third engineer Margus Treu, motorman Hannes Kadak and systems engineer Hendrik Sillaste) survived. While hundreds of passengers, in the decks *above* them, were unable to climb out and went down with the ship, Treu, Kadak and Sillaste managed to climb up an emergency shaft that went up the funnel of the ship. They all survived the night, Treu on a capsized lifeboat, Kadak and Sillaste in a liferaft.
Another one is the a German passenger (can’t remember his name right now): like dozens of others, he was trapped in a foyer near the doors that led outside when the ship had already taken a 90 degree list – they were a few meters from the doors, that were now directly above them, but utterly unable to climb outside, and thus doomed to die. When the ship finally went down, the water rushing in caused a jet of compressed air that liteally blew him through the doors and outside the ship. He was later picked up by a liferaft and saved.
Another man (a Swedish passenger, I think) spent the entire night inside a capsized and waterfilled liferaft, with three others sitting outside on what had been the bottom of the raft. When the helicopter came, the rescue man had to cut the bottom of the raft with a knife to take him out. He was saved, as were the other three.
“Taken before the ship’s sinking”.. Seems an unnecessary phrase… 🙂
The VHF traffic from the accident is worth a listen.