Story of the Aleutian
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Wreck of the S.S. Aleutian
S.S. Aleutian underway in Alaska waters prior to her sinking in 1929

The liner ALEUTIAN was built in Philadelphia in 1898 as the HAVANA. Three hundred seventy-five feet long with a 50-foot beam, the iron-hulled vessel was operated by the New York and Cuba Steamship Company until 1905. In August of that year, the ship was sold and renamed PANAMA. For nearly 22 years the 5,708-ton ship steamed the Atlantic route between New York and Panama.

The S.S. Aleutian as she appeared before sinking in 1929


In February 1927 the PANAMA was purchased by the Alaska Steamship Company and moved to Pacific service. Renamed ALEUTIAN after the string of volcanic islands that make up Alaska’s southwest coastline, the vessel received an extensive remodel in Seattle before entering the company’s Alaska trade with regular freight, passenger and mail service between Seattle and points northward.

Alaska has more miles of coastline than the rest of the U.S. combined

On the morning of May 26, 1929 the ALEUTIAN was carrying mail, 115 tons of freight, five passengers and 111 crew members as she steamed a course south into Uyak Bay. Sea conditions were calm and visibility was good. The ALEUTIAN was making 14 knots and drafting 21 feet.

Without warning, a tremendous shudder reverberated from the ship’s hull far beneath the waterline. The ALEUTIAN had struck a submerged pinnacle of rock lying unseen just beneath the icy water.

“I stopped the engines and then put her full ahead to beach her,” Captain Gus Nord later testified. “She was sinking so fast that they told me from the engine room they could do nothing on account of the water coming… The vessel was sinking bow first with a heavy port list.”

Uyak Bay looking NW from Aleutian Rock

Mortally injured, the enormous ocean liner settled lower as thousands of tons of seawater rushed through the gash in her hull. The captain gave the order to abandon ship and lifeboats were hastily lowered. Most of the passengers, officers and crew made it off the stricken ALEUTIAN in lifeboats, while others leapt into the water and were plucked out of the swirling maelstrom.

Just seven short minutes after the collision, the ALEUTIAN disappeared beneath the gentle swells of Uyak Bay, a sheen of fuel oil and a mass of floating debris all that remained to mark her grave. An editorial printed the day after the wreck reads, “It seems to have been a case of too large a ship for too small a bay.” The great ship, valued at $1 million in pre-Depression American dollars, would lie hidden and forgotten for more than 73 years.



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Alaska Steamship Company playing cards

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