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Gasoline launch Superb capsizes near Skagway, 12 dead

A Watery Grave - Drownings in the Yukon & Alaska

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

The Weekly Star - Friday, July 10, 1914

Gasoline launch Superb capsizes near Skagway, 12 dead, 1914

    A terrible tragedy, the worst to occur in Lynn Canal since January of 1898 when the steamer Clara Nevada blew up and sank with seventy eight passengers and her crew, took place early last Saturday morning, July 4th, when a gasoline launch, the Superb, capsized three miles below Skagway, throwing all her passengers (either twenty or twenty two; accounts of the number on board differ) into the icy waters from which only eight escaped, the others all being drowned.

    Of those drowned only one body, that of John Logan, was recovered. It was found floating in the water, buoyed up by a life preserver, five hours after the accident happened, the head being beneath the water.


    The launch had left Skagway at 9 o'clock with twenty persons, mostly young men, for Juneau where a monster celebration was billed for the following day. After proceeding about thirty miles down the canal very rough water was encountered and the launch put back to Haines, arriving there at 1 o'clock in the morning. On reaching Haines four of the passengers, Geo. Matthews, Otis Oakes, Clark and B. Vance, disembarked and declined to again go on board, their places being taken by Monte Price, Thos. Maturein, John Logan and Myrtle Burlington, the latter a Negress.

    Having abandoned the trip to Juneau, the launch started to return from Haines to Skagway and had completed all but three of the eighteen miles when the deplorable accident took place.


    Accounts by the survivors of what caused the the launch to turn turtle are somewhat vague but the stories agree that most of the weight was at one side and well forward; that a huge "ground well" struck the boat in the stern, lifting the wheel out of the water and throwing her bowdown and sidewise. In the twinkling of an eye she had upjet and the twenty or more passengers were struggling in the icy waters. Two of them, Tom Running and Peterson, managed to swim ashore and make their way to the Skagway dock from where they telephoned for assistance.

    A number of small boats soon put off to the rescue but six others, in addition to the two who swam ashore, were all that were found by the rescuers, the others having become exhausted and dropped off one by one from the overturned launch to which they had been clinging in a vain effort to save their lives. Had the rescuers been a few minutes later three others would have been added to the number lost.


    Those drowned were Stanley Dillon, Henry Bernhoffer, John Eustace Bell, Sam Radovich, Oscar Carlson, Bob Saunders, Lynch, Peterson, Monte Price, Thos. Maturein, John Logan, Myrtle Burlington and an unknown Montenegrin. The eight who are known to have been rescued are George Black, owner of the launch; George Matthews, Jud Matthews, Cassie Kossuth, Arthur Boone, Orchard, Tom Running and Sam Rodas.


    News of the terrible tragedy in the early part of the day turned the gala-day spirit which up to that time had prevailed in Skagway into one of mourning, two of the boys drowned, Stanley Diulon and Henry Bernhoffer, having been practically raised there, the former coming there, with his parents sixteen years before and when a babe of but three years. The latter also had spent his life there. Both were promising, industrious boys and their untimely deaths spread a mantle of gloom over the town where they were so well known and generally respected.


    John Eustace Bell and Sam Rodas, the latter being saved, were both employed at the Pueblo mine near this place. Bell was a native of Manchester, England, where his mother and sisters reside. He was a hydraulic engineer by profession and as such was employed by the Atlas Mining Company. He leaves three brothers, one in Africa, one in New Guinea and one in the Argentine Republic. He was a likable fellow and very popular with his fellow workmen at the Pueblo. He was highly educated and was an enthusiastic amateur photographer.


    Of the remaining unfortunates but little is known. Price and Maturein were ex-soldiers and several of the others were laborers who were anxious to reach Juneau and took passage in the launch rather than remain in Skagway until a steamer sailed on Monday. It is said that these laborers all had war-bags containing their effects and that these were lashed on top of the house of the launch which served to make her top-heavy and which, no doubt, was the main reason for her turning turtle.

    Three or four of those lost are said to have been employed on the Skagway wharf as longshoremen. B. Vance, one of those who deserted the launch at Haines, thereby probably saving his life, was from Agasiz, B. C., and was in Whitehorse as an agent for some biblical work only a few days ago.


    John Logan, the only one whose body was recovered, was known here. He was the boy who, after being turned back by the immigration authorities at the Summit the latter part of May, managed to elude the officers and reach this place where he secured a position as messboy on the steamer Selkirk. He was apprehended and later deported, walking from here to Skagway in preference to a jail sentence. He was at Haines and was one of the four who boarded the launch on her way back to Skagway. He was buried at Skagway Tuesday, far away from his birthplace, Boston, Mass. He was nineteen years of age.


    Survivors of the disaster assert that the accident was not due to drinking; that, while there was liquor aboard, none of the crowd was drunk or had been drinking to any great extent. For the sake of the dead as well as of the survivors, it is hoped this version of the unfortunate affair is true.

    That there were not several other young men of Skagway in the party and that their bodies are not now on the bottom of treacherous Lynn Canal is due largely to parents and friends who persuaded them against venturing on the trip as, at best and under the most favorable conditions, the one hundred mile run between Skagway and Juneau in a small boat is not one that should be undertaken thoughtlessly or without assurance that the craft is wholly seaworthy and properly equipped with both ballast and life-saving apparatus.