The steamship L. Edward Hines set sail from New Orleans on Oct. 7, 1916, carrying tens of thousands of dollars' worth of lumber to Colon, Panama. It held a crew of 23 men – many of them from New Orleans.
It was its first voyage from the Crescent City, but it was also its last. Several days after it set out, the Hines was buffeted by a hurricane. The crew members battled to stay afloat for hours, but to no avail. The wooden ship was ripped to shreds and sank in the wee hours of the morning Oct. 15, about 50 miles off the coast of what is now Belize.
The men aboard the ship were thrown into the sea. Among them was engineer Axel F. Dahlstrom, 46, of New Orleans. Dahlstrom clung to a piece of wreckage in solitude for two days and two nights, then drifted close to a piece of wreckage holding two of his crewmates, Frank McCrystal and B. Linquist.
The three men floated aimlessly for four more days before their makeshift raft became lodged on a reef. A fisherman rescued them there and took them to the hospital at Stann Creek, now known as Dangriga.
The three men returned to New Orleans later that month. Dahlstrom told his harrowing tale to several local newspapers.
Sharks pursued three men clinging to wreckage from the ship.
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"Six days and six nights we tossed about, sometimes under the water, sometimes above it," Dahlstrom told the New Orleans Item in a story published Oct. 31, 1916. "It was terrible. One more day on that sea, and I am sure we would all have been lost. Each hour I could feel myself growing weaker and weaker. The rescue party came just in time. A little later and we would have furnished food for the sharks."
The sharks weren't their only worry. The men were also starving and dehydrated, and despite the tropical setting, they suffered greatly on the open sea.
"In the daytime, the sun blistered us and at nighttime, it was so cold we had to keep wetting our bodies in the warm seawater," Dahlstrom said, describing an almost serene resignation to fate.
"Our eyes began to fail, and we could see only a few feet around us," he said. "My legs began to swell and soon became an enormous size and were purple. The wind ceased, and the raft drifted peacefully."
Eventually, Dahlstrom said, "providence intervened," and it began to rain. The three men used a piece of oilcloth to catch the fresh water for drinking – though it wasn't enough to quench their thirst.
It was a sensational rescue tale, although in an interview with The Times-Picayune, Dahlstrom said his ordeal had been exaggerated by the city's afternoon newspapers. "All that blarney talk makes me tired!" he said. "Why, I didn't tell them all that."
But the sinking of the Hines a century ago was also a tragedy. Dahlstrom, McCrystal and Linquist were the only survivors, the papers wrote. Dahlstrom, for one, vowed never to sail again after his brush with death.
"The ordeal was too much for my wife during the days when she could obtain no definite information of my rescue, and I feel certain I shall devote my time and attention to her in the future in our little home in New Orleans," he told the States.
"Of the rest of the crew, Dahlstrom said he knew nothing," wrote the Item. "They simply vanished."
A week after papers proclaimed only two men had survived the shipwreck, two unconscious men washed ashore.
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A week later, an even more sensational story emerged. Villagers on Utilla Island, off the coast of Honduras, discovered two bodies lying on the beach, unconscious but alive. It was Norman Pedersen (or Peterson, depending on the source) and Adolfo Garcia de Laren, two crew members from the Hines. The men were taken to a hospital, where they were revived and where they told their tale.
Petersen and Garcia "showed signs of great suffering," wrote The Times-Picayune on Nov. 28, 1916, after the two had arrived back in New Orleans aboard a Honduran steamer. The men had been lost at sea for 17 days. They described lashing themselves to a section of the ship's bridge deck to avoid being washed into the water. They watched in agony as ships passed by them on four occasions; Pedersen and Garcia were too weak to do anything to try to draw attention to themselves.
The last two men rescued after the sinking of the Hines were near death, desperate for food and drink during their ordeal, Pedersen told the New Orleans press – and were fortunate that birds began circling their raft at some point, perhaps in anticipation of a scavenging opportunity.
"We were without food or water and would have died of starvation had we not been able to catch some seagulls," Pedersen said in an interview with The Times-Picayune, "and we realized that if we drank the salt water we would die so we wrung the necks of the gulls and drank the blood and ate the flesh."