Lake Vessel Goes Down Off Harsen's Isle
Bows of Both Ships Caved In By Deadly Impact
By Maury Vincent - Staff Writer
A stone-loaded ore carrier, awash with her prow crumpled like aluminum foil, blocked Great Lakes shipping for a distance of seven miles today following a head-on crash with another freighter last night near Algonac.
An injured deckhand on one ship and the crew of 41 including the captain of the other, were hustled ashore moments after the crash by a young Utica coast Guardsman.
Down with her decks awash is the 504-foot A.M. BYERS, bound downriver with 10,000 tons of limestone.
It's brow also badly damaged, the E.M. FORD, a 460-foot cement carrier, was being towed to Detroit today. The impact swung the huge vessel like a "whirling dervish," said witnesses. It drifted helplessly until the anchors caught.
The injured seaman, Mike Wenta, 56, a steward abord the FORD, is in St. Joseph hospital, Mount Clemens, with head and chest injuries suffered when a swinging metal door srashed into him as he ran for the deck.
Wenta was plucked from the disabled ship by John Paul Jones, 21, of 5030 Auburn road, Utica, an Engine-man second class at the Coast Guard station on Harsen's Island.
"I was in bed when I heard the warning bells sound and I started running topside," said Wenta. "Then suddenly this door swung open and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back."
Jones and another Coast Guardsman, Seaman James Hawkins of Bay City, returned to the fast-sinking BYERS and loaded 10 shivering crewmen in their 30-foot utility boat. Then they headed for shore towing the BYERS' two lifeboats loaded with the remainder of the crew.
Within 17 minutes after the crash of the BYERS settled to the bottom, the bow pointed toward the Canadian shore and her stern swinging to Harsens Island.
Rudderless, the FORD drifted helplessly until it careened toward the American side until Coast Guardsmen managed to moor it to shore. Its crewmen remained aboard waiting to be towed to Detroit.
Survivors said the FORD apparently lost steering control as the two ships neared each other in the quarter-mile wide channel. They crashed head-on about 9:30 p.m.
Most of the survivors saved only their wallets and the clothes on their backs. they hit the lifeboats within two minutes after the crunching impact.
Mrs. James Yax, 2465 Columbine, wife of the Harsen's Island fire chief, said she heard a "rumbling" noise that seemed to shake the island. their home is about a mile from the scene of the crash.
"I was in my bunk when all of a sudden there was a big bump and I was tossed to the floor," said Harold Buchanan, 21, of North Carolina, a deck hand aboard the BYERS. Sockless, he scrambled into a boat. He suffered only a scratched thumb.
Another BYERS crewman, Lauren Winsor, 21, of Manistique, said:
"I was eating when the crash came. Just as we hit, I started choking on a piece of meat. I dropped everything and got to hell out of there."
Raymond Kern, 33, an oiler from Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., was having coffee in the BYERS galley. He said:
"The impact spilled coffee from my cup and then everybody started running around. We went into the engine room and pulled the fires out of the boilers.
"Then water started pouring in and the skipper gave orders for everybody to head topside. We got into the boats and here we are."
It was the second crash aboard the BYERS for Seaman Willard Karl, 33.
Karl was a crew member when the 46-year-old freighter was rammed and sunk off Sandusky, Ohio, 14 years ago. Two men died in the crash.
Mr. and Mrs. Al Beaudoin of Sans Souci served hot coffee to crewmenbers. many of the islanders, including the Beaudoins, opened their homes to the weary men.
Capt. john Engilson directed the orderly abandonment of his crew and then roamed the island seeking sleeping quarters for them.
Three Coast Guard tugs were rushed from Detroit to direct water traffic at the scene.
All freighters were warned to steer clear of the St. Clair River.