on impact with a bloody gash to his head and
too weak and groggy to hang on to the life
belt for long, both sank beneath the waves, as
a horrified Mrs. Noakes looked on. Miller, too,
drowned as his wife struggled nearby.
The head steward and the flight crew
sought to reassure the remaining survivors,
while 43-year-old Edna Watson, like the lost
Spence, emerged a hero as she helped keep the
injured Captain Alderson afloat, all the while
encouraging the other passengers to keep up
their spirits amid the wind and waves. Some
tried to sing; one survivor saw his trousers
float past in the swell and managed to rescue
his pipe. Watson periodically swam around
to the other passengers in turn, in order to
massage warmth into their arm muscles as
the numbing minutes and hours passed. All
of them tried not to think about the danger
of sharks as the wind howled and the life belt
loop swayed. Darkness fell.
As word of the disaster spread, rescue efforts had been initiated in Bermuda and on
the eastern seaboard. A Pan American flying
boat was despatched from Darrell’s Island to
go to the rescue of its Imperial Airways sister.
The US Coast Guard sent a flying boat from
Long Island toward Cavalier’s last known
position some 300 miles off Cape May, New
Jersey; a US Army Air Corps Boeing B- 17 Flying Fortress was sent out from Langley Field,
Virginia. All in vain: the terrible weather
forced all of them to turn back. The US Coast
Guard directed two cutters and two patrol
boats to the scene—one some 70 nautical
miles away. The rest of the rescue fleet had to
come from Cape Cod, Norfolk or New York,
heartbreakingly distant in the daunting storm.
Rescue, if it were to come at all, would have to
be left to nearby merchant shipping.
The survivors hung on grimly as darkness fell.
One ship passed by without noticing their des-
perate plight despite frantic attempts to hail it.
Finally, ten endless hours into the ordeal, they
spotted Esso Baytown, a commercial tanker, on
the horizon. Two of the men swam toward her,
hailing and yelling, as she neared them. They
were noticed at last. But even the rescue was not
easy in the heavy seas: Baytown crewmen were
injured as the first lifeboat lowered swamped
in the jolting swells. Finally, another lifeboat
managed to rescue them. Cavalier’s exhausted
survivors were pulled up onto the deck of the
tanker. A US Navy gunboat which arrived
at the scene was frustrated in its attempts to
transfer a doctor to the tanker, leaving medics
on Baytown to minister to the passengers. Two
days later, after more storm delay, the survivors
arrived in New York City. The bodies of No-
akes, Miller and Spence were never recovered
but lie fathoms deep, as does the wreckage of
the once seemingly invincible Cavalier.
The rescue made headlines around the
world, with top-story coverage in the New
York Times and Life magazine as well as in the
British and Bermudian papers. After all, it
was one of the first ocean rescues of com-
mercial airline passengers. A church service to
commemorate the safe deliverance of the 10
survivors, and to remember the three dead,
was held in the Anglican Cathedral in Ham-
ilton. A week after the rescue, Edna Watson
returned to Bermuda (this time by ship!),
descending the gangplank with the captain of
the Monarch of Bermuda to a hero’s welcome
and the Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal,
pinned on her by the governor a few days later.
Incredibly, this would not be Watson’s last
drama at sea. Not only would she become one
of the first female Bermudian parliamentar-
ians, but during the Second World War she
would serve as a physiotherapist with the
Canadian Armed Forces. In 1943, the ship she
was travelling on, part of an Allied convoy, was
torpedoed in the Mediterranean off the Italian
coast by a German submarine. Once again, the
plucky Watson was pulled safely from the sea.
What of the flying boat service? Imperial Airways, by then part of BOAC, discontinued that
service in 1948; with the simultaneous inauguration of larger, faster Douglas and Lockheed airliner service from Bermuda’s air field (a legacy of
the Second World War), the era of amphibious
Cavalier’s inaugural flight passengers in 1937. survivor and hero Edna Watson descending the gangplank of the Monarch of Bermuda after her ordeal.