Sea Rogue: SS Flying Enterprise

SS Flying Enterprise Listing

Previously known as the SS Cape Kumakaki, the SS Flying Enterprise was built in 1944. In 1947 she was sold to the Isbrandtsen Company. She was a Type-C1B ship with nothing frivolous about her.

On December 21, 1951 the Flying Enterprise left Hamburg, Germany bound for New York carrying 41 crew and 10 passengers. During the voyage a dense fog made it impossible to hold lifeboat drills. On December 24th turbulent weather put an end to the passengers’s Christmas Eve celebrations. Many returned to their cabins seasick. The stormy weather continued to mount and by the next day winds had reached Force 12. During this time parts of Europe were battered by the storms and in the Atlantic numerous vessels, as well as lives, were lost.

On the 26th the Flying Enterprise received a large crack on the weather deck, courtesy of the sea. An explosive sound ran through the ship and people were thrown from their bunks. The ship began listing as the storm continued to pummel the stricken lady. The Flying Enterprise’s captain, Kurt Carlsen did what anyone would have done. He had the crew go out and patch the crack up (much like patching up drywall). This feat was indeed managed as the storm raged about. With the crack sealed up, the water that had come in the ship was pumped out and the Flying Enterprise’s list was corrected. Carlsen believed his ship would hold up and proceeded on. But he did take the precaution of moving to a busier shipping lane.

By the 28th the Flying Enterprise was still afloat. That is until a rogue wave hit the ship. The damage caused by the wave was appalling. The wheelhouse windows were obliterated and the starboard lifeboat might as well have been kindling. The Flying Enterprise resumed her listing, which would continue to worsen. Carlsen learned from the engineers that “the plant…had kicked out” and that the ship wouldn’t move. Despite the best efforts of the engine department personnel, things were failing fast. Finally around 2:30 AM Chief Engineer George Brown gave up. Nothing could be done and all that could be, had been. The heat in the engine room was becoming unbearable and their work had not been made easy due to the list. The passengers were rounded up and were prepared to be taken off. The passenger’s quarters had taken a beating and many found they couldn’t return to their cabins and retrieve warmer clothing. There had been no deaths.

An SOS was sent out. A number vessels braved the terrible weather and made for Flying Enterprise. However, rescue efforts would not begin until daylight. The SS Southland was the first vessel to arrive. Shortly after her arrival the Flying Enterprise lost her electric. The gathering rescue ships (there were six in all by morning) would have to fight their own battles throughout the night, as the crews lived though the miserable weather. The Flying Enterprise’s owner Han Isbrandtsen contacted Carlsen and informed him the tug Oceaan was on her way to tow the Flying Enterprise.

Flying Enterprise Still Afloat With a Vessel Standing By

With daylight rescue operations began. Putting their own lives at risk, lifeboat crews headed for the Flying Enterprise. Survivors jumped overboard in pairs, a crewman with a passenger. First off was George Brown and Leanne Müeller. They both made it to the Southland lifeboat. Other lifeboats weren’t having as much luck. They were capsizing and spilling their crews in the sea. The General A. W. Greely sent out a lifeboat and picked up 4 survivors, running one over in the process. When their engine quit, the crew decided to row for the nearer Southland. There they suffered an accident. The sea threw the Greely boat onto the Southland and then the Greely boat smashed into the Southland lifeboat’s rudder. Both boats were damaged and taken out of use. The Greely sent out another boat under Robert Husband. His boat had the sad duty of taking aboard the first casualty of the Flying Enterprise. Nikolai Bunjakowski had tried to save another passenger’s dog and jumped overboard with it. Unfortunately, it was swept away. Bunjakowski also met his end. In all Husband and his crew rescued 33 people.

Several crewmen offered to remain with Carlsen, but he would have none of it and ordered them off. The survivors found themselves scattered among the rescue ships: 33 on the Greely, 15 on the Southland, 1 on the Arion and another on the Westfal Larsen. Carlsen was the only man left and despite requests, adamantly refused to abandon his ship.

Carlsen decided to wait for the Oceaan, and settled in as best he could, while survivors were taken back to land. It wasn’t a picnic negotiating the listing ship and going off on a hunt for food took some time. But succeed Carlsen did, keeping a meticulous record of the supplies he used. For instance, he kept a rough log on the wall as the original rough log had gotten soaked. As a ham radio operator, the captain had his own radio aboard as well as another meant for his father. But his and the ship’s radio were no longer operational, so he resorted to his father’s radio. With the radio, Carlsen communicated every two hours with whatever ship was standing by to give him help.

The Flying Enterprise Sinks

Carlsen learned the Oceaan had changed course, because her ‘sister’ had met with an accident and needed help. Isbrandtsen was unable to locate a replacement that could handle the Flying Enterprise except the Turmoil. But that tug was busy with another vessel. The Turmoil couldn’t be expected until January 3rd, and the weather hadn’t improved much. A plane flew out and located the Flying Enterprise. Carlsen was photographed as he waved from the deck. Soon planes bearing reporters would be harassing the Flying Enterprise.  (Note : There was always a ship standing by ready to give aid to Carlsen).

Finally the Turmoil arrived late on the 3rd. By that time Carlsen knew the Flying Enterprise’s condition had worsened. Over the next days earnest efforts were made to attach a line from the Turmoil to the Flying Enterprise, each time ending in a mishap. On the 4th a Turmoil crewman, Kenneth Dancy, joined Carlsen to lend a hand.

Captain Kurt Carlsen

But the Flying Enterprise was not to live. On January 10th, Carlsen and Dancy abandoned ship. The pair swam for the Turmoil which picked them up. About an hour later, 11:04 PM Carlsen witnessed his ship sink beneath the waves. Carlsen and Dancy were taken to Falmouth.

Source : Delaney, Frank. Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea

37 thoughts on “Sea Rogue: SS Flying Enterprise

    • I think it was! Carlsen must’ve been a tough one to live through that, and act like it was all normal.

      When they added the number of people taken off the Flying Enterprise, the rescuers counted Bunjakowski, as well. He may have been alive when they took him aboard the rescue ship. I don’t think Carlsen knew that one of the passengers had died at that time. And I had a typo up at the top in not counting Carlsen as part of the crew. I’ll go fix it.

      Thanks for your comment.


    • Oh no, I’m not tired of it. I welcome comments!

      Delaney’s book, Simple Courage is well worth a read. It’s entertaining and written so smoothly. So glad you liked the post, thanks for stopping by!


  1. Great post and an interesting story.
    I was so glad you put the (Note : There was always a ship standing by ready to give aid to Carlsen), once I read the “he was photographed waving from the ship” I felt sure it was the last we would see of him!

    I can only imagine the dangers the other ships put themselves through to help another in distress. I expect they knew that it could be they themselves calling for help at any time and I’m sure it would really make them intent on doing their best for others no matter the risk.


    • Thanks, so glad you liked the post!

      Yeah. Over time there were a few ships that had stood by, relieving the others at a certain time. Reading “Simple Courage”, I can’t get over how resourceful Carlsen was!

      Regarding the rescue ships, I think that’s they way it was. For instance Capt. Arthur Rostron of the RMS Carpathia, who picked up Titanic survivors, was putting his own ship at risk when he steamed for the Titanic. And then on the night the Flying Enterprise was hit by that rogue wave, lookouts had to be posted and watched for the rescue ships. There was a risk of the other ships hitting the Flying Enterprise.

      Thanks for your comment.


  2. What I like most about your posts (besides the fact that you are a good writer) is that just when I think you can’t surprise me with a topic, you do it again. I thought the Flying Enterprise was one of those ships lost in the pages of time. You keep bringing important and almost forgotten moments in our history back to us. Thank You JG !


    • Thanks much! I’m glad a book was written about the Flying Enterprise.If it hadn’t been written, I’d most likely know very little about the incident.

      Hard to believe a fantastic story as the Flying Enterprise, could be forgotten. I think tragedy is more better remembered than an (almost) happy ending like the Flying Enterprise.

      Thanks for your comment!


  3. Carlsen is one brave captain…unlike some of recent that abandon their ships with passengers on board. Anyway, this is another sad tale and that the weather plays such significant part.


    • Carlsen was a very commendable person. Really brave of him to stay with the broken ship when the weather was so fierce.

      Yeah, like Schettino for starters.

      Thanks for your comment.


  4. I was a young boy eight years old and remember listening to as many news broadcasts as I could. I was very glad when Captain Carlsen gave up his vigil.


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