Monday, March 9, 2020

The Blue Comet Tanker Explodes in Chicago's Calumet Harbor on October 29, 1953, the Largest Great Lake Ship Fire to Date.

A lake tanker loaded with 500,000 gallons of gasoline exploded in Lake Michigan Thursday, October 29, 1953, killing one crewman and injuring two others. Eight others aboard the tanker escaped.
The Blue Comet
The Blue Comet (1946-1965), previously the Troy Socony (1923-1946), burst into flames at 6:45 am., in Calumet Harbor off 92nd street, in Chicago, and fireboats and coast guard rescue craft sped to the scene. Coastguardsmen removed the dead man, the injured, other members of the crew and the skipper, Capt. Charles Quarry. The dead crew member was identified by the coast guard as Edward Surwilla, about 35, of Kingston, PA.

Treated at South Chicago Community Hospital were William H. Rice, of Anderson SC., the first engineer, who suffered back and leg injuries, and Axel Aanson, 45, from Brooklyn, NJ., a deckhand, who suffered cuts on his head and face.

The fire was reported extinguished about two hours after the tanker erupted. Firemen reported it was confined to the boat's № 1 hold. No estimate of the amount of gasoline destroyed was available. The 253-foot tanker, owned by the James McWilliams Blue Line, Inc., and registered out of New Jersey, had been laying to in the harbor because of weather conditions. The coast guard said the cause of the blast had not been determined.

Its been said that this was the largest Great Lake ship fires to date.

In 1954, the Blue Comet was rebuilt and added 957 tons of weight. Sold as scrap in 1965.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. The crew member who was killed was my late uncle Edward Surwilla, not Surlilla as it's spelled in the article. I wanted to honor him with the correct spelling of his last name. He was the older brother to my late mother Shirley Surwilla Baldygo and the son of Polish immigrants the late Joseph and Caroline (Lech) Surwilla. This was a tragic loss to my family and Edward Surwilla who died on Oct. 29, 1953 will never be forgotten.


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