USA Today (Magazine)
Survival At Sea
Wayne M. Barrett
"ABANDON SHIP!" may be the most terrifying words a passenger or member of the crew ever will hear. "We were waiting for hours and hours," recalls Isa Santana, who survived the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria with her six-year-old daughter Annabel. "If the ship sank. I was ready. I was prepared to go; I had my daughter right by my side.""ABANDON SHIP!" may be the most terrifying words a passenger or member of the crew ever will hear. "We were waiting for hours and hours," recalls Isa Santana, who survived the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria with her six-year-old daughter Annabel. "If the ship sank. I was ready. I was prepared to go; I had my daughter right by my side."
"I remember there was a lot of excitement and hysteria throughout the ship," says Annabel Santana. "Children don't have a sense of danger. I was fortunate that way. But I remember seeing people in distress. I realized it was a serious situation--so sure, it was disturbing."
"I remember everything," says Isa Santana. "At approximately 11 p.m., I was up in the nightclub at the front of the ship saying goodbye to friends. We were having a last drink, laughing and talking. When all of a sudden we felt the ship shaking. The waiter said we probably hit a rock. The window was closed, so I didn't see the other ship approaching." "[Actress] Ruth Roman was with us. She got up immediately to go check on her [three-year-old] son and I did the same with my daughter. I knew I had better see about my baby. Our cabins were next to each other. We took off our shoes and ran to our children's cabins. The ship was listing and bending by this time. So we took our children and went to the promenade deck.
"We were up there for hours waiting. There wasn't too much talk out a lot of tension. The captain [speaking in Italian] told everyone to keep calm. We could see the third-class passengers coming up, covered with dirty oil from swimming from their cabins. They had a different experience from those of us in first class. Many of them were in very bad shape. I remember that the captain. Piero Calamai was willing to die and not leave the ship. He eventually received a cable telling him a helicopter was coming to pick him up.
"The Ile de France, coming from New York on her way to Europe, picked up a lot of my friends from the Andrea Doria. I ended up on the Stockholm with my daughter and Ruth Roman's son. Ruth was in New York before us because the Stockholm was wounded."
"Once we children were on the Stockholm, we fell asleep," says Annabel Santana. "My mother came in to wake us up so we could see the Andrea Doria go down. She created a big whirlpool as she went down. That definitely was a sight to remember, but not something I'd ever want to see again.
"I also remember that at the time of impact I was asleep in bed. I don't really know what woke me up, the sound of the impact or all the noise in the hall caused by people running and yelling. My mother came in and said, 'Hurry up. Put on your life jacket.' It was summer, and all I had on were my baby doll pajamas. I was cold. A gentleman on the promenade deck gave me his socks to wear. I wasn't really scared until I had to climb down the rope ladder into the lifeboat. It was all greasy and I slipped, skipping a step."
In cheating death, Isa Santana had to abandon a lot of valuable property that went down with the ship, including an expensive movie camera she had bought for a friend as well as numerous pieces of jewelry that were stored in the ship's safe deposit box. "I still have the keys to my cabin and the safe deposit box, only because they happened to be in my pocketbook at the time. I probably would have thought about getting my property, but it was too dangerous to move about the ship. There was broken glass everywhere. I had a lot of family jewelry and new jewelry. When you traveled by ship first class, you had the opportunity to wear those things. It's all right that I lost all that stuff, though, because I rebought a lot of it. Actually, I treasure those two keys very much; they are something special to me. We [used to] travel every year on the Italian line, and when I think of all I could have lost that day [her daughter], I treasure those keys like valuable pieces of jewelry."
Despite the sinking, the Santanas have fond memories preceding their fateful trip 40 years ago. "We went to Italy for a vacation in the mountains," Isa explains. "We were visiting my parents, sister, and family to celebrate Annabel's sixth birthday"
"It was a very festive time," Annabel points out. "I was given some pretty dresses, but they went down with the ship. From what my mother recalls, I had a couple of nightmares on my next trip, but that was it."
"Luckily, she was too small to be scared," says Isa. "I was scared at the time, but now I can talk about it. Unfortunately, a lot of people we met on board didn't make it. A lot of people didn't follow instructions and jumped into the water. They just couldn't wait to leave the sinking ship."
Despite the Andrea Doria disaster, the Santanas continue to travel extensively. "We only stayed away [from ships] a year," says Isa. "I love the water--and I can't even swim. I love life on board ship; that's why my daughter and I take [many] cruises, and they're always at least for two weeks."
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