"FLASHES IN The NIGHT: The Sinking of the Estonia," by Jack A. Nelson, Apprentice House, $26.95, 314 pages (nf)
The sinking of the Titanic has become an iconic event embedded securely in the public consciousness. But a similar maritime disaster that occurred in 1994, in which 852 people died in the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea, has not registered similarly for those who live outside of Europe.
The M/S Estonia sailed daily between Estonia and Sweden, making an overnight passage on which there were often many revelers. The bars, dance floor and karaoke lounge provided plenty of opportunities for relatively inexpensive fun. Those who didn't plan to party were able to sleep through the journey in comfort in cabins below deck.
One night in September 1994, however, the partying and sleeping were interrupted around midnight by a loud metallic grinding sound and the tilting of the large ship to the side. Within 30 minutes, the ship was at the bottom of the sea, and those who had been able to get out of the ship were floating in the frigid water in life vests and rafts.
After a long, dark, cold night in which most rescue efforts were hampered by the darkness and stormy conditions, only 137 people survived. Most were young and male, strong enough to climb out of hallways that turned into slick shafts by the extreme tilt of the ship.
As with the Titanic, many elements contributed to the huge loss of lives. The weather was particularly rough during the night, warnings to passengers from crew members didn't occur early enough, Mayday calls didn't reach enough rescuers as rapidly as they should have, life boats couldn't be detached from the ship and the inflatable life rafts didn't function well either.
Author Jack Nelson recounts the harrowing details of the long night in which many fought for survival until they could be rescued, with far too many succumbing to the cold water before helicopters and other ships were able to reach them. He explains the circumstances of the sinking and the aftermath and explores the official reasons given for the sinking, as well as other theories that have been put forth. He focuses on several main characters who survived, including a young man and woman who promised each other at the beginning of the night that if they survived they would meet for a date at a restaurant in Stockholm.
"Flashes in the Night" is a fascinating read, one that would particularly appeal to those who enjoy adventure stories and accounts about the Titanic.
Cathy Carmode Lim