Wrestlings Sinking Ship

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Submissions Contact Us. Email us Find a Sales Representative. Request a Catalog Mailing List. The promenade decks, port and starboard, were lined with life-vest bins and cradles holding heavy life-raft canisters, and they were overhung by the large fiberglass lifeboats suspended from davits. Between difficulties caused by the angle of heel and the lack of coordinated action by the crew, none of the lifeboats were lowered. There were ten in all, five per side. Nine of them broke loose as the Estonia sank, and they floated to the surface as flotsam—damaged, overturned, swamped.

For now, as the list steepened to 45 degrees, the starboard promenade tipped ominously toward the reach of the waves, and the port promenade did the opposite, tilting upward until its floor and Deck 7's exterior wall between them formed a perfectly balanced right angle, open to the sky like a V.

Though initially the V stood on the ship's protected downwind side, as the capsize continued, the incline of the sheltering wall diminished, and the promenade grew increasingly exposed to the wind and spray. That wall rose only one level, to the open, rooflike expanse of Deck 8. It became a floor when the starboard list increased beyond 45 degrees and the Estonia lay fully down to die. But even such imperfect shelter was preferable to the horror inside, and nearly all the escapees took refuge there, on the port promenade. In total there were perhaps people. Some of the crew struggled individually to live up to the responsibility that had been vested in them.

The situation nonetheless was beyond salvation, and chaos on the promenade was intense. The collective screams of the victims trapped below rose through the stairwells like a cacophony from hell, a protest that for some of those on the outside near the doors drowned out even the roar of the storm.

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Some of the escapees panicked, crawling around on the promenade and adding to the screams from below, or begging hysterically for life vests, or sitting apathetically against the walls, or rushing to and fro without purpose like terrified creatures losing the last ground in a flood. Such reactions, however, turned out to be the exception. Despite the unusual danger that confronted them on the ship's outsides, most of the escapees seemed to keep their wits about them. A brutal selection was at play, by which those who had succeeded in reaching the promenade tended by definition to be precisely the sort of people who could best handle the threat that awaited them there.

They were fast and strong, and capable of quick calculation. Though their actions once outside were largely self-centered, with personal survival predominating over other concerns, many of the escapees proved able to work together to achieve that end—preparing and deploying the heavy life rafts, for instance, or attempting to free the lifeboats, however impossible that turned out to be. A few went further, and became genuinely altruistic.


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One man in particular comes to mind. He stood on the promenade looking completely composed, reassuring passengers around him that they would survive, patiently instructing people on how to don the life vests, and setting up an efficient system for the vests' distribution. Others played equally powerful roles.

It was as if human society, having been torn apart, was starting to remake itself already—as if with time there could have been kings and queens on that drifting hull, and maybe even priests. But then the ocean washed them all away. There was criminality, too, perhaps because among the various admirable characteristics being selected for, the less admirable traits of opportunism and raw aggression lay inextricably entwined.

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With startling speed they robbed others on the deck and then disappeared inside, apparently to work through the crowds that were just beginning to surge up the staircases. They were confident, as criminals tend to be, and they must not even have considered that the ship might then trap them, though the best evidence is that it did. Still, preoccupied with finding adequate life vests for himself and the three women, he was soon confronted with aggression of a more dangerous kind.

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The problem started as fighting that broke out among passengers competing for life in the aft stairwell—violent behavior related to panic, but more focused and productive, which had the effect of intensifying the selection process under way and, especially toward the end, of delivering predators onto the port promenade, who had managed to come from behind and would stop at nothing to survive.

A group of these people emerged from the stairwell as the list approached the cutoff of 45 degrees, and having fought their way to the promenade, they lunged at passengers already there, wrestling life vests from their grasp or tearing them off their backs. People fought back, of course, but some lost. It was not known what happened to the victims, but if they went into the water without flotation gear, as some passengers did, it is fair to say that they were murdered.

The first pair disappeared, and did not survive. To escape from the aggressors on the promenade, the two of them clambered up to the open expanse of Deck 8. It was quieter there. The deck which, again, essentially served as the ship's roof was like a steel beach angling down dangerously toward the oncoming waves. Its slopes, however, were covered by nonskid rubberized mats, and were interrupted by life-raft cradles, pipes and protuberances of various kinds, and the walls of higher structures, including most notably the captain's quarters and the navigation bridge above it, and the large midship funnel—all of which allowed for adequate purchase.

As the ship continued to capsize and flood, its movement softened, with the unfortunate effect that the waves reached higher against the decks, plucking off victims in small groups or one by one. When the auxiliary engines failed and the lights flickered off, a new round of screaming erupted, but it quieted when the emergency generator kicked in.

Increasing numbers of people arrived on Deck 8 actually now climbing down to it , because the formerly upward V formed by the promenade had rotated so far to starboard that the alternative escape route, across its rails and onto the ship's port side, had risen beyond their reach. The storm was howling, generating waves as high as twenty-eight feet. The ship was visibly sinking at the stern. Already the aft starboard corner of Deck 8 had gone under.

Crew members and passengers were deploying the automatically inflating life rafts but having trouble with the wind, which blew unsecured rafts entirely away, and jammed others against railings and edges. The wastage was enormous. The ship had safety equipment for more than 2, people, but it was clear that among the few hundred escapees outside, many would go wanting.

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Desperation mounted. Getting the rafts into the water and then getting into them proved to be just about impossible. Many rafts when activated turned out to be underinflated anyway. There weren't enough good ones to keep up with demand. An apparently perfect raft suddenly inflated—complete with a tentlike canopy and a little flashing light—and in response a large crowd rushed it, far too many people to get in. He was struggling with a life-raft container of their own, and had hopes of getting it open in time.

The crewman started shouting in English, "Water is coming in on the car deck! They disappeared down-deck together. The bridge windows were now breaking in the waves. The rubberized mats were coming off the decks, piling up in jumbles, falling onto swimmers in the water. Then the funnel reached the ocean's surface, marking a list of 90 degrees, and a cloud of acrid steam enveloped the ship as seawater touched the hot exhaust pipes inside.

The electricity generator failed, and people screamed, but the batteries kicked in, illuminating fluorescent emergency lights. A rocket flare arced into the night. The ship's horn blew a loud and mournful good-bye.

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The hull began to invert. Faced suddenly with the prospect of the ship's rolling over on top of them, scores of people still hanging on to Deck 8 began to drop into the water and attempt to swim clear. They were on the dangerous, upwind, up-storm side.