The World Evening Edition (New York)

First Officer Blair of Majestic Narrowly Escapes Death in Saving Drowning
Shouts Directions From the Water to the Crew of a Lifeboat
The sound of the fourth bell announcing 10 o'clock in the morning had
scarcely died away aboard the White Star liner Majestic---the one time
"Queen of the Sea"---poking her way through a thick fog 1,000 miles from
Sandy Hook, when there rose from the vessel's depths the shrill scream of a
man and the sound of scuffling. Robe-muffled passengers lounging in deck
chairs glanced at one another as the uproar below continued, and then sprang
up as the noise sounded clearer and nearer.

From a hatchway emerged the contorted face, eyes bloodshot, of a half-naked
fireman to whose waist and legs were clinging half a dozen other firemen and
stewards. The man gained the deck by an effort which flung him and those who
clung to him headlong on the boards. He was up in an instant. Possessed
apparently of the strength of a giant, he threw off the grip of those who
would have held him and darted to the starboard rail.


Women passengers screamed, shrank back against the deckhouse structure and
covered their eyes with their hands. Those men who did not stand irresolute
with surprise, jumped forward toward the fireman, but the man dived headlong
over the rail.

Above the shouts and cries which rose from men and women sounded the alarm
of "Man Overboard!" On the bridge Capt. John B. Kelk swung his telegraph,
communicating with the engine room, over to "Full speed astern!" The mighty
frame of the Majestic quivered as though shaken with the ague as the order
was obeyed, the engines shut down for an instant and were then sent racing

In his bunk first officer David Blair was awakened by the terrible racking.
Throwing coat and trousers over his pajamas he hurried to the bridge. There
Capt. Kelk was peering through the fog striving for a glimpse of the man in
the water. Suddenly the fog lifted for a fraction of a minute and Blair
sighted a dark object off the port bow of the steamship. The Majestic,
travelling at full speed, had backed past the fireman.

At Blair's shout of alarm, Capt. Kelk hurried an order for half speed ahead,
and as the Majestic started slowly ahead, Blair bounded down the ladder from
the bridge and rushed to the port rail of the boat deck. Passengers had
flocked to the rail also. While they gazed excitedly, Blair flung off his
coat and trousers and, clad in pajamas only, dived over the side.


A lifeboat swung on the davits on the starboard side, its keel brushing the
water, its crew ready at the oars. At Capt Kelk's order the halyard ran
through the blocks and the lifeboat dropped into the sea. But it was many
yard from Blair. As its crew pulled desperately to round the intervening
bulk of the ship the fog closed down again like a pall and the first officer
and the object toward which he swam were shut from view.

The rescuers had had a good glimpse of his position, and they pulled toward
the spot where they had seen him lost. One minute---two, and then five and
ten passed, without sight of the swimmer. Then there came a hail from the
fog-hidden water.

"Ahoy," called Blair and as his ship mates answered, he shouted back.

"Keep off," he said. "I'm all right. The other chap's a dozen yards ahead.
Straight on the way you're going. Don't mind me. I can keep up."

Those in the life boat sighted the officer as he shouted and saw in the
direction of his guiding finger pointing straight ahead of him. They
followed his command and an instant later saw the fireman floundering about
a few yards ahead.

A few strokes brought them alongside the demented man---crazed, they learned
afterward, from the heat of the stokehole. He fought desperately to keep
them from dragging him into the boat. But dragged in he was and held down by
two big sailors, while the others pulled back to where Blair was treading
water and shouting at the top of his lungs to let them know his position. He
was pulled into the boat almost frozen, for he had been fifteen minutes in
the water. The fireman had been submerged for three-quarters of an hour, and
any but an insane man would have died of the exposure.


Aboard the ship, where the passengers lined the rail cheering heartily for
Blair, the men were hustled into the sick bay. Ship's Surgeon C. E.
Milnes-Hey took them in hand. A hot drink and an alcohol rub made Blair as
good as new. In a few minutes, clad in garments more presentable than his
pajamas, he was striving to dodge the congratulations of the passengers and
reach his cabin. The fireman, William Kelwen, was put to bed under a guard,
for his experience in the water had completed the mental derangement which
the intense boat of the stokehole had started.

The Majestic arrived here to-day, the passengers still gossiping of the
thrilling rescue two days ago and telling each other where they had stood
when Blair dived overboard, how they had seen Kelwen rush from the stoke
hole and how they had felt as they waited for the return of the rescuers.

For two days the rescue has been the only topic of conversation, and as a
result of it Blair will receive the finest pair of binoculars that money can
buy. A purse of $250 was taken up by the admiring passengers, and the
glasses, suitably inscribed, will be presented to the first officer just as
soon as they can be selected and delivered.

Related Biographies:

David Blair

Relates to Ship:

Majestic (1890)


Original article digitized by the New York Public Library
Retrieved from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America web site,

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