Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - SS President Coolidge - The Fall of The Lady
This page orginally had the text of an email sent to me on 28 January 2000 by Kevin and Mayumi Green, then owners of Aquamarine Diving, Santo, Vanuatu, about the collapse of The Lady. on 26 January 2000. However, at their request I removed it as there were problems with some Australian dive shop owners demanding that The Lady had to be returned to the wreck or they would boycott Santo as a dive location. I have now returned the email to this page.
|The First Class Smoking Room -
Note the Lady top right
|The Lady and the Unicorn
First Class Smoking Room
On the night of 25 to 26 January 2000, The Lady fell off the wall and floated down and through a door to the Lower Promenade Deck. From here Kevin, Mayumi, Allan Power and Dave Cross moved her to the sand and then to the top of the wreck (I think) and then out of the water to the Santo Hotel where she underwent some preservation. The following is an email I received from Kevin Green on this.
Sometime in the early morning of the 26th January  the "LADY" took a dive. That part of the smoking room where the lady stood was getting old and finally gave way after 57 years & 4 months, she could not hold herself up any longer. Luckily however the lady is tougher than we thought and we believe greater powers were at work and as she fell, she somehow managed to fall on an angle and through a doorway, out of the wreck and was embedded in the mud and silt under the Promenade deck 90% untouched. Imagine the fright on approach to the lady and seeing she was gone. For a while it was not known if she had broken into small pieces or undamaged in the silt.
Allan Power was first to inspect the area in the afternoon to clarify that she was in fact still intact, all but a section of the porcelain frame surrounding the LADY. Kevin dived at night to also inspect her. She was lying in 56m half in half out of the silt on the bottom side of the Promenade deck., Allan Power and his team, Dave Cross from Pro Dive, and Kevin & I had emergency meeting to discuss the rescue operation of "The Lady". We decided "The lady" should be rescued to prevent any further possible damage due to other parts of the wreck falling on top of her. The Lady needed to be taken out of the ship, put somewhere safe, repaired, then placed back in an appropriate position away from danger.
This morning the 27th, Allan, Tony and Tim from Allan's, and Kevin and I met together at the beach, had quick discussion of a dive plan and what would be done. We went down together(the first time ever!). Allan's team took a wooden pallet, and we took rope, hacksaw....
We swam down out side of the wreck, passed the sky lights. She was in the silt lying on a rail. Kevin had to cut through a cable rail with the hacksaw so we could get the lady through the opening and slowly onto the wooden pallet, Allan went inside to get her out of the ship. After that, I can't do or see anything, so I try to go up little and away from silt, Then Kevin, Tim and Tony walking on the bottom(60meters) carrying "The Lady" away from the ship. They found a spot, and tied her to the pallet with more silt around. I kissed her forehead and told her you'll be ok, and we left.
Allan, Kevin and I talked after the dive, and we are going back again tomorrow morning to shift her to the top of the ship. Tomorrows rescue will involve the combined efforts of Santo Dive Tours, Pro Dive Santo, & Aquamarine businesses and staff. We have come together to combine efforts and ideas to rescue the LADY in the interests of protection and restoration of the Coolidge, diver safety, diving tourism in Santo.
After that we will raise her to the surface and out of the water. After that we will discuss restoration and consider where to put her back as a group.
Whilst we feel this has come close to a national disaster we feel we have it all in good hands and all efforts will be made to complete the job safely and professionally. We thought we would give you the curtsy of finding out what has happened, what we have done, and what we intend to do BEFORE the coconut telegraph gets to work and stories get exaggerated and phones start ringing. No one operator is trying to attract glory and I am pleased for once we are working together for a common goal.
Kevin & Mayumi.
I had forecast that this would occur when I visited the Coolidge in 1999. At that time I had stated that I expect that it would fall off the wall or the whole room would collapse within 18 months. In fact, it was less than six months.
|Mayumi Green and The Lady after the salvage
Photo courtesy of Mayumi Green
After the restoration, a decision was made (presumably under the influence of the Australian dive shop owners) to return her to the wreck. The Lady was put in the First Class Dining Room at about 33 metres. To make matters worse, she was replaced in an upright position and on a side wall rather than a bulkhead wall. Thus she was in a totally different position than when in the First Class Smoking Lounge.
However, a few years later she was put back in the right orientation, that is, her head facing the right as you look at her and on a wall towards the back of the Diging Room. However, I still feel that this is inappropriate as it is only a matter of time before the Coolidge starts collapsing even more and then the Lady will be undoubtably destroyed or badly damaged.
My view is that a copy should have been made and the original put on public desplay in the Santo Hotel foyer (for all to see) and the copy placed back in the wreck for divers to at least experience what it was like in situ. I do not agree that the Lady is such an integral part of the reason divers visit Santo. Sure, it is part of the experience, but anyone whose decision to visit and dive the Coolidge is solely based on the presence of the Lady in the wreck is a diver not worth having visit.
|A closeup of The Lady
|A closeup of the unicorn
|A wide shot of Kelly lighting
the Lady with a ceiling light on the right
|A closer shot of The Lady
Of more concern is the fact that somehow a very strange "tradition" relating to The Lady has evolved in the late 1990s (it was certainly not something done in the early or mid-1990s). This is that every diver "has to" kiss The Lady at least once when visiting the Coolidge. Who the hell started this? What is supposed to be achieved, other than to show how stupid some people are? Who invented this?
If a person does not want to dive the Coolidge based on what it naturally has to offer, no-one should have to "hype up" the experience by stating that kissing The Lady is a "must do". Get real! If you are a sheep, well do it, but if you are an individual, then look at her for all her glory. If you look really close you can see that she even has eyeballs and the workmanship is fantastic. Amazing that after over 60 years in the water her colour is still brilliant.