Miss Joan M. Dier
She Shared Andrea Doria
Buffalo Evening News: 1956 Souvenir photo of Joan.
Joan Dier, 25, was being escorted back to her table when it happened. At 11:10 PM on July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria collided with the Stockholm, a Swedish motorship, in the Atlantic Ocean off Nantucket Island. The impact knocked Joan, a Buffalo secretary, into a leather chair.
Nineteen years later Mrs. Joan Dier Delles recalls the night
of fear and epic rescue - a night, she says, which brought her maturity. "I hadn't
planned to return on the Andrea Doria. I was booked on a later passage on the
Holland-American line," she explains. "But I wanted to get home sooner to attend
a friend's wedding in Syracuse, so I boarded the Andrea Doria." Her sailing
home was a highlight of that vacation. It was a gala time featuring cocktail parties;
lavish dinners and interesting people. The collision changed all that. Mrs. Delles
remembers: "I ran out onto the deck but there was a very heavy fog and you couldn't
see your hand in front of you.
"My next thought was to go back to my cabin to get a life preserver and to change my high-heeled shoes for a pair of flat, rubber-soled shoes." "The decks were oil-slicked and they were becoming crowded."
When Joan got up to the lifeboat deck no crew had arrived there yet. "I went back down to my cabin. For some reason, I wanted to get my address book." "What happened," she continues;" What could we have hit? Certainly not another ship - what with all the modern technology guiding ships." "I thought that we were taking on water below, but not that we would sink. I didn't think that the ship was going down." Emerging from her cabin the second time, Joan, realized the danger of the situation. "It was mass panic," she recalls. "You could hear people crying, praying, singing to keep their minds occupied. The decks were very crowded and people were bumping into each other."
Hundreds of passengers were Italians en route to a new home, and new life in America. Priests aboard Ied prayers among this group, many of whom, traveling with their children and life's savings, were extremely distraught. "I could see many persons bleeding and limping from the injuries they had received." Mrs. Delles said that since she was traveling alone and had nobody to look after, she tried to comfort some of the older people and prayed with some others. "My whole life flashed before me at the moment I finally realized that I might die."
The ship was listing now but Joan felt driven to go back to her cabin one more time. She pulled herself through the corridors, hanging on to the railings. "I was so sore. Every muscle I had ached but I had no time to slow down or to be afraid." Joan put her passport and some lipstick into a large straw tote bag and she crammed in the 14 rolls of film. When she left the cabin, the crowd pushed her along to the boat deck. Men formed a human chain, pulling passengers along in the pitch darkness. Huge knotted ropes were being offered as an escape means. Joan didn't think she was strong enough to maneuver herself on the rope, so she stepped aside and another passenger quickly seized the rope and started to descend.
The Andrea Doria had radioed a SOS signal and ships nearby began to respond. They formed a circle of help around the stricken craft. Joan stepped on a rope ladder and climbed down to a lifeboat sent by the Ile de France, one of the rescue ships. She was one of the last of some 1700 persons rescued. "As the boat moved away, I looked at the Andrea Doria on her side. It was like she was sleeping under a starry sky. I knew I was saved and I thought that she would be saved, too."
The Ile de France had set up coffee, doughnuts, and ham and cheese sandwiches for the rescuees and everybody got a warm blanket. Holding her purse, Joan was safe. The $29 million Andrea Doria, pride of the Italian Line, went down with the possessions of 1706 persons. Fifty-one persons died during or shortly after the mishap.
Mr. and Mrs. Harold R. Dier, Joan's parents, were driving to New York as a surprise welcome for their daughter. At the 48th St. dock, they were shocked to hear from an ice cream vendor that the Andrea Doria had sunk. The family had a tearful reunion on the former Quarantine Island. When the liner sank, Joan lost money, clothing, books, gifts, jewelry, six pieces of leather luggage and her camera, with the last roll of film. That's what she left behind. Eerie feelings, fear of the dark and sleepless nights followed her for months afterward. "Over the years, I've constantly questioned what happened. I don't think there was any excuse far the accident. Somebody goofed - who, I don't know." The accident was a "maturing experience," she says. "It made me grow, I felt satisfied- with myself. I didn't melt into a puddle of tears. I dealt with reality as an adult." Mrs. Delles says that the experience also strengthened her belief that "God is always with me."
A scrapbook her father made and faithfully kept until his death and a few pictures are all that is left of the experience. The oil-stained evening dress was thrown away and so was the old straw bag. Mrs. Delles no longer is in touch with any fellow passengers.
Joan, a widow, still finds avid listeners in her three daughters Lisa, 13; Denee, 12, and Jodi, 10, and in co-workers at Canisius College, where she is a secretary. "Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the 'incident. It would be great if the 'ship could be raised by then. I'd go back. I'd take my kids. It's part of history now."
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