What Happened


Position A - The America upbound was crossing to the Indiana side for a two-whistle pass.  The United States downbound was favoring the Indiana side for a one-whistle pass.  The America's bow struck the United States well forward of the boilers and penetrated the United State's guard, where barrels of oil were stored.

Position B - The America was driven ashore near Rayl's Landing as the impact was severe and there was danger of sinking. She was not afire.  The United States, now pointed for the Indiana shore, was landed as quickly as possible and lapped along side the America.  Fire now had broken out on the United States, originating on the larboard guard, main deck, among the barrels of oil.  A strong north-west wind was blowing up and off the Indiana shore.  While the United States was still heading into the wind the flames leaped up the front stairway.  Rounded to, alongside the America, her forward section was a mass of flames.  The immediate concern was to save the passengers.  Many jumped from the burning United States over aboard the America.

Position C - Capt. Whitten of the America to save his boat ordered off-watch pilot Charles Ditman to back away.  Ditman did, and landed the America a second time, about 200 yards below, not far above the mouth of Bryant's Creek.  It now was obvious the move had been made too late; the America was also afire.  Both boats sank as they burned.  The wind blew the United States out about 80 feet from shore before she settled in eight feet of water.  The America was close to the shore in about 7 feet of water.

Strangely enough the United States, the first afire and where the most loss of life occurred, did not completely burn.  Next day viewers at the scene looked upon her port wheelhouse to see the name painted on it as usual, and the emblem of the great seal of the United States still there, in all its glory.  She was later raised and rebuilt.  The America was a total loss.


from the December, 1968 issue of the R & D Reflector