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The Hopeless Undertaking of Captain Henrik Kurt Carlsen

One of the most heroic rescues at sea was organized in 1951 to save only one man, the Danish Captain Henrik Kurt Carlsen and his ship, called the Flying Enterprise. This article tells the story of a brave and great Captain, a very old sailor who had spent many years at sea. Soon after this adventure, he was called Captain Enterprise, because of his courage in the face of danger.

On December 28, 1951,  the Flying Enterprise, an American merchant ship that displaced about  6700 tons, carrying 10 passengers and a crew of 40 men,  sailed six days before from the port of Antwerp, Belgium, and it headed to New York. During navigation, the Flying Enterprise found itself in the midst of a violent storm. Captain Carlsen transmitted SOS via radiophone, and informed his contacts that the storm had caught his ship during the last three days, with at wind speeds above 160 kilometers per hour and waves estimated at 30 meters. Captain Carlsen also said that on the third day the rudder had literally broken and that the vessel was taking on water. He also managed to give a reliable account of his geographical position (240 miles west of Ireland, into the Atlantic Ocean).

The alarm of Captain Carlsen was picked up by the Southland, another American merchant ship, sailing close to the Flying Enterprise. After a few hours, the Southland managed to get some control of the situation, taking on board passengers and crew.  At dawn on December 29, 1951, the Flying Enterprise was adrift in the middle of the storm, and only Captain Carlsen was aboard the ship that had shut himself in the radio booth, with icy water up to his knees. Despite the grim conditions of the Flying Enterprise, Captain Carlsen refused to abandon his ship, asking a strong tugboat to tug the Flying Enterprise safely into the harbor. On January 3, 1951, the Turmoil, a British tugboat of 1100 tons, departed from Southampton, but efforts to connect tugboat and the Flying Enterprise proved unsuccessful due to the pounding waves.

Nevertheless, Captain Henrik never abandoned his ship. But on the evening of January 4, 1951, Kenneth Dancy, the second mate of the Turmoil, reached the Flying Enterprise’s bridge, and tried to convince Captain Carlsen to leave his vessel, but without avail. On January 5, 1951, the two officers grabbed a rope thrown to them, and then the Turmoil sailed toward the English coast dragging behind the Flying Enterprise, whose fate was however clearly marked. On January 5, 1951, at 4:0 p.m., the Flying Enterprise collapsed altogether. Even at that instant, Captain Carlsen wouldn’t to leave his vessel, but he was forced to leave it. However, Captain Carlsen threw himself into the sea only in the moment just before the Flying Enterprise disappeared forever in the depth of the Atlantic Ocean, “Carlsen, wrapped in blankets, was already standing on Turmoil’s deck, watching end of lost battle. Later he said the worst of all ‘was the moment the Enterprise disappeared below the sea’.” (LIFE, 1952).




“The Hero Recites His Own Saga.” LIFE. January 21, 1952.



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