Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2023

Amazing Rescues

By Timothy Harrison


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This undated photo shows the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Woodrush servicing the 1908 Rock of Ages Lighthouse that sits on a rocky outcropping in Lake Superior, east of Isle Royale. In their time, both were involved in amazing rescues.

On May 27, 1933, the lighthouse keepers of the Rock of Ages Lighthouse rescued 125 people from the wreck of the passenger ship George M. Cox. Because the lighthouse could not be a refuge to that many people, they had to take turns staying inside the tower for warmth, while the others waited outside wrapped in blankets.

However, it was the USCGC Woodrush (WLB-407), a 180-foot buoy tender, built in 1944 by the Zenith Dredge Company, that is credited with being part of one of the ten most successful rescues of all time, primarily because of its remote location.

On September 30, 1980, the MS Prinsendam, a Holland-America Line cruise ship, with 350 passengers and a crew of 200, departed Vancouver, British Columbia for a long cruise that would take them to see local sites before heading to Japan. On October 3, 1980, after departing Ketchikan, Alaska, and visiting Glacier Bay, she set out for Japan. About 12:40 in the morning of October 4, a fire broke out in the engine room that was soon declared out of control.

Rushing to the scene with the Woodrush were the USCGC Boutwell, the USCGC Mellon, and the American tankers Sohio Intrepid and Williamsburg. Amazingly, all 550 people were rescued without any serious injuries. On October 11, 1980, the Prinsendam capsized and sank.

The USCGC Woodrush was decommissioned in 2001 and sold to the Republic of Ghana. The Rock of Ages Lighthouse still stands today and is being restored by the Rock of Ages Lighthouse Preservation Society through a partnership with the National Park Service.

Editor’s note: Tim had completed this story, but it did not fit into the last issue and was to be held until this issue. Since it was written by Tim, we wanted to keep his byline on it, in spite of it being published after his death.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2023 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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