From the Publisher
"A gripping true story of treasure hunting and tragedy on the Doria, the world's most dangerous shipwreck."Daily News
"Should be required reading for all divers."Immersed
"Well researched, well interviewed, and written without frills. It doesn't need frills. Wreck diving is already on the edge, an extreme sport with virtually no margin for error. Drama is built in."National Geographic Adventure
"[This is] a well-narrated tale. Haberstroh does a deft job of laying out the character and motivations of five ill-fated divers and their guide...And Haberstroh's restraint serves him well, giving the book a fully informed breadth . . . a solid, intriguing contribution to the genre." Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer
"Haberstroh gives about as close a look at the world below that you'll get without strapping on a set of steel 120s."St. Petersburg Times
"An extremely well-researched and fast-paced book."East Hampton Star
On July 25, 1956, the luxurious ocean liner Andrea Doria, the pride of the Italian fleet, sank after a collision with another ship a mere 45 miles south of Nantucket. For nearly half a century, the secrets of this proud ship have lured underwater-treasure hunters deep into its sunken hull, 225 feet below the surface of the Atlantic, at the very limits of human endurance. In Fatal Depth, Long Island Newsday columnist Joe Haberstroh describes how several elite divers were ultimately doomed by the enticement of the legendary liner.
Since 1956 the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria has lain in 250 feet of cold Atlantic water off Nantucket-a reachable but dangerous depth for freedivers using advanced deep-sea apparati. Indeed, five ambitious divers died over the site in two seasons in the late 1990s, and the Andrea Doria site seems to operate for amateur deep sea divers as "the underwater Everest." But the quest to make it down to the Doria and back with artifacts like its first-class dinnerware, brass instruments and random fittings hardly seems noble: the last fatality in the summer of 1999 was during an attempt by a clearly underqualified diver from the Midwest in quest of an authentic liner toilet to complement his new basement d cor. Almost everyone in this account seems sublimely unaware that for many others it is this risk itself that propels the ship's wreck-diving fraternity. That includes Haberstroh, an outdoors recreation reporter for Long Island Newsday, who labors to make up for the murkiness of the Doria divers' motives by emphasizing eyewitness accounts and interviews-and even some quoted conversations from victims, which, he announces in his introduction, have no primary sources. The most conclusive chapter in Haberstroh's investigation is called, without apparent irony, "When Your Number's Up, It's Up." Like its 2001 predecessor, Deep Descent, by Kevin McMurray, this journeyman's account is a murky adventure, even for those who are familiar with the magic of scuba diving. Photo insert not seen by PW. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
Every time they brushed their fins on anything, they touched off floury
clouds of brown silt. Some of the muck even dislodged when the divers'
exhalation bubbles boiled into the warped bulkheads. After more than forty years
in the high-pressure environment of the deep, the china closet looked nothing
like a closet. Long ago it was cleverly designed to fit under a stairway on the
ship. Now it was an open mouth in the rusted steel, the gap shaped like a
diamond, the edges like razors. A steel support beam knifed into the corridor;
one man could hang on to this while the other propped his elbows on the side of
the jagged opening and stretched inside with the rake.
They began to work there. Vince took the rake first. The rake tinkled
as he pulled it across the goop inside the closet. It was painstaking. After
raking the mud, they had to wait for the silt to settle to see if any china had
been unearthed. Out of habit, Murphy glanced frequently at his dive timers.
Twelve minutes had passed since he and Vince had entered the water. They wanted
to stop the work at the china closet at twenty minutes, which would give them
five minutes to back out of the ship and get to the Seeker's anchor line.
Vince worked another couple of minutes, then stopped and pointed at
Murphy, who took his turn with the rake. Murphy raked the closet down, then
waited. Soon a flash of white winked through the soup. It was china.
Murphy reached in and plucked a celery plate. It was intact, and it bore the
maroon braids of the first-class service. It was not a cup, or a large dinner
plate, but it was boomerang shaped, a bit of an oddity, and he happily placed it
in the mesh goodie bag attached to his gear. Time was short, so Murphy thought
he'd rake the closet down one more time, as a courtesy to the next team that
would inevitably come back to this cache. He began to claw at the muck when
Vince reached up to Murphy's mouth and yanked his regulator out of his
A cloud of bubbles swarmed between them as the regulator released the rest of
the air that Murphy had been inhaling.
Stunned, Murphy reached to his left out of a defensive instinct and
grabbed Vince's harness. Keeping Vince at bay in this way, he reached for the
emergency regulator hooked to the small bailout canister mounted between the big
tanks on his back. He kept that rarely-used regulator clipped up near his right
shoulder. In a moment, he had the regulator safely clenched in his mouth. Then
he turned to Vince and leaned in so their masks were no more than six inches
Vince pointed at Murphy's back. Murphy didn't understand, so he drew his
right index finger across his throat. Using the scuba hand signal for an airflow
problem, he was asking Vince whether he was having difficulty breathing. Vince
"You out of air?" Murphy screamed through his mask.
Vince returned a placid gaze. It wasn't clear that he could hear what Murphy
"You out of air?" Murphy repeated. He pointed at Vince. "You out of air? You
out of air?"
Now Vince shook his head furiously. No!
He pointed again at
Murphy's back. Now Murphy wondered whether he was the one in trouble. It was
possible that his main tanks were leaking. The telltale bubble trail would be
invisible to him, but Vince could see it, if that indeed was happening. Is that
what Vince meant? If so, could he have chosen a more bizarre and idiotic way of
telling Murphy that there was a problem?
Nothing made sense. Murphy wanted out.
"Let's get the fuck out of here!" he screamed.
"Yeah!" Vince replied.
Vince took the lead and they swam out of the wreck. Murphy checked the
pressure gauges on his main tanks. They indicated that he had plenty of air,
even with all the heavy breathing he had just done. He listened for a moment and
didn't hear any hiss from an air leak. His main tanks were fine. He spat out the
bailout regulator and replaced it with one from his main tanks. Then he pushed
off the mottled skin of the Andrea Doria's hull, and the two men swam aft
together-toward the shipwreck's stern.
As Murphy watched, Vince started to slow down. He saw the familiar pearls
pouring from Vince's main tanks. He was breathing. Those were exhaust bubbles.
Vince was breathing. But where was he headed? Murphy couldn't put it all
together in his mind. He looked at the luminous gauge that told him how long he
had been underwater. Eighteen minutes. He needed to get moving to his first
decompression stop, which was one hundred feet up the anchor line. Murphy
started to lose sight of Vince.
Dan and Moyer appeared. They were swimming along the ship's length, and Dan
had his video camera. At 4:03 P.M., he pointed the lens at Vince, who by now was
moving slowly. Vince held his arms straight down, perpendicular to his body.
They fluttered, as if they had fallen asleep and he was shaking them to awaken
them. His fins moved only inches up and down. He was swimming, at least by the
dictionary definition. But it was like a slow-motion film. It would take effort
to move your fins that subtly.
Faintly illuminated by the brilliant day above, the ocean at the wreck of the
Andrea Doria was a deep blue-green. Vince swam. The ocean gathered in his form.
Murphy watched. He thought Vince was simply checking out some other aspect of
the wreck. Maybe. Murphy watched, and Vince's receding image was painted over
with successive strokes of green. Then, he was gone.
At 4:08 P.M.-five minutes after Vince was captured swimming lethargically on
Dan's video-Nick Caruso stepped from the Sea Inn's cabin, squinted into the
afternoon light, and saw a diver in the water fifty feet away. Was the diver
adjusting his equipment? Glare bounced off the water. No, he wasn't moving.
Caruso shouted at Tommy Surowiec to retrieve the diver in trouble. Surowiec
dived in immediately. He reached the diver and turned his face toward the sky.
"I need everyone up here now," Caruso said. A few divers, including Santiago
Garcia, had been dozing in their bunks below. They all rushed on deck. Caruso
threw a line to Surowiec, and they towed in the two men. It wasn't until they
got the stricken diver on the Sea Inn's swimming platform, at the boat's stern,
that Surowiec recognized the diver as Vince Napoliello.
First they unclipped Vince's main tanks and his decompression stage bottles.
Garcia removed Vince's hood. Someone else opened the suit by unzipping the
zipper that ran diagonally across the front. They scissored the wrist seals and
pulled off Vince's gloves. Surowiec and Caruso began chest compressions and
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Vince's chest rose a couple of times. His eyes
fluttered once. Then his pupils became fixed and dilated. Oddly, for a diver who
had apparently risen quickly from a great depth, Vince had none of the froth at
his mouth that is associated with a catastrophic lung injury. Maybe he hadn't
been that deep when he shot to the surface.