Dark Descent: Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland

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9780071456302: Dark Descent:  Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland

"Dark Descent makes the reader a vicarious participant in what is a very extreme sport."—Philadelphia Inquirer

On May 29, 1914, the passenger liner Empress of Ireland was struck by the freighter Storstad and sank in fifteen minutes, taking more than 1,000 victims with her. It remains one of the largest losses of life ever in a maritime accident.

At more than a hundred feet deep in the frigid Gulf of St. Lawrence, diving the Empress is like trying to navigate an unfamiliar sixty-story building lying on its side at a forty-five-degree angle, in pitch blackness with only a flashlight. In Dark Descent, Kevin McMurray takes us deep into the bowels of the lost ship, first to relive her tragic death and then to join the divers who have probed the wreck's secrets. It's an adventure from which some divers don't return.

"Impressively researched. . . . For those who love the lure of the deep water and the mysteries of shipwrecks, this specialized history will be a pleasure."—Publishers Weekly

"Kevin has a remarkable knack of adding life and realism. A great job."—R. W. Hamilton, Chairman of the Board, Divers Alert Network

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From the Inside Flap:

"Many people in extreme sports do not recognize their limitations, and when they do, they're about to die."--Gary Gentile, wreck diver

The passenger liner Empress of Ireland departed Quebec City on May 28, 1914, bound for Liverpool, England, with 1,477 passengers and crew. That night the Empress encountered dense fog in the frigid Gulf of St. Lawrence, and at 1:55 a.m., May 29, the liner was struck and split open by the collier Storstad. In less than 15 minutes the great ship plunged to the bottom with more than 1,000 victims--one of the largest losses of life ever in a North American maritime accident. Shocking though the tragedy was, however, it was swept from public consciousness by the gathering cloud of World War I and the torpedoing of the Lusitania a year later.

But the story of the Empress did not end there. Soon after the ship settled into the muddy bottom, deep-water salvage divers were sent down in an attempt to recover the hundreds of bodies still trapped aboard. Operating in the dark and frigid depths in an unstable, obstacle-strewn wreck, these pioneer "hard hat" divers were one misstep from disaster, and one lost his life that summer. When Edward Cossaboom was finally recovered by fellow divers, nothing remained of him but "a jellyfish with a copper mantle and dangling canvas tentacles."

For almost half a century after Cossaboom's death, the Empress lay untouched by human hands and largely forgotten. But thanks to Jacques Cousteau and others, scuba diving became a popular sport after World War II. Beginning in the 1960s, the Empress lured divers, including Cousteau himself, to brave the icy St. Lawrence for the chance to see and touch a piece of history. Generations after her sinking, the Empress was in remarkable condition--a great but deadly wreck to dive.

Despite continuing advancements in diving equipment and techniques, including exotic mixed-gas breathing systems, more lives have been lost on the Empress in the past forty years--most recently in the summer of 2002. Considered a "pinnacle dive" by adventure seekers and a historic wreck by the likes of Robert Ballard (the discoverer of the Titanic), who filmed a documentary on the Empress in 1999, the beckoning call of the Empress is simply too powerful to resist. Those who have seen her once almost always go back.

In Dark Descent, Kevin McMurray gives us two great stories--the loss of a mighty ship with a human toll as terrible as the Titanic, and the birth and development of "deep-penetration" wreck diving, one of the most hazardous pursuits in the world. He re-creates not only some of the more successful dives on the Empress but also, in chilling detail, the fatal expeditions. McMurray, a veteran deepwater diver, has dived on the wreck multiple times, drawn to it for reasons the reader of this book will come to understand.

McMurray guides us along claustrophobic corridors, the inky darkness beyond our attenuated lights haunted by human remains and historic treasures. One miscalculation, one unseen hazard, one equipment malfunction or moment of panic could be fatal. He plunges us 150 feet deep to the once-proud Empress of Ireland and into a strange, romantic obsession, and at times we want to dash to the surface, lungs bursting, praying for one more breath of clean, fresh air.

Kevin F. McMurray is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside, Sunday Times (London), and Men's Journal. He is an experienced scuba diver who has visited the wreck of the Empress of Ireland on multiple occasions. McMurray is the author of Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria.

"Kevin McMurray has revealed the secrets of the Empress of Ireland in a spellbinding read that perfectly describes the nightmarish conditions of diving on the wreck that remains a tomb of its victims."--Clive Cussler, author of Night Probe! and Trojan Odyssey

"Kevin has a remarkable knack of adding life and realism. A great job."--R. W. Hamilton, Chairman of the Board, Divers Alert Network

Dark Descent tells two dramatic stories--the loss of a mighty ocean liner ninety years ago with a human toll as terrible as that of the Titanic, and the birth and development of extreme, deepwater wreck diving, one of the most hazardous pursuits in the world. Kevin McMurray takes us deep into the bowels of the Empress of Ireland, first to relive her tragic death and then to join the divers who have probed the wreck's secrets. At more than a hundred feet deep in frigid water, diving the Empress is like trying to find your way through an unfamiliar sixty-story building lying on its side at a forty-five degree angle, in pitch blackness with only a flashlight. It's an adventure from which some divers don't return.

What reviewers said about Kevin McMurray's Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria:

This is a book you will have a hard time putting down. Page after page leads you through adventure, mystery, suspense, and acts of heroism."--The Philadelphia Enquirer

"Exciting and powerful."--Library Journal

"McMurray knows his stuff. . . . Compelling. . . . Full of high drama in low places."--Kirkus Reviews

About the Author:

Kevin F. McMurray is an award-winning journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside, Yankee, Men's Journal, and the Sunday Times of London.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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