Seaman who survived major shipping disaster

Date: Friday 25th January 2008

EDEN man Sam Mitchell, who has died at the age of 82, was a seafaring chief engineer in the Merchant Navy who survived a shipping disaster which claimed the lives of 20 crew members.

Mr. Mitchell was part of a 60-strong crew on board the British freighter London Valour when it got into difficulty and sank near Genoa during a freak storm in April, 1970.

Thrown from the ship into the sea while he tried to prepare a lifeboat, Mr. Mitchell was in the oil and debris-covered water for 90 minutes before he was rescued. The disaster, which made headlines across the world, was witnessed by thousands of people at Genoa harbour, where the London Valour was due to offload its cargo of iron ore, having sailed to Italy from the Russian city of Novorossiysk.

Providing his account on the tragedy to a Herald reporter several weeks later, Mr. Mitchell recalled that there were times when he thought he would not survive. Remarkably, the only injury he sustained was to his arm as he was dragged to safety.

He returned to sea soon after and, on retiring, he and his wife, Mary, continued to live at Stainton, near Penrith.

After a long illness, bravely borne, Mr. Mitchell died at Penrith hospital last Tuesday. His funeral service was due to take place at Carlisle crematorium yesterday.

Born at Millom in 1925, Samuel Harvey Mitchell grew up with his parents and brother in the Carlisle area.

After leaving school, aged around 14, he became an apprentice locomotive fitter on the railway. When the Second World War broke out he joined the RAF voluntary reserves, although he was never called up to duty. After the war ended he joined the Merchant Navy.

After he was married to Mary Taylor, of Morland, in 1953, he went to work at a Carlisle power station but later decided on a return to sea.

He attended night school and qualified as a chief engineer before starting work on large oil tankers. It was while working in this capacity that he saw service on the London Valour.

Thankfully, the rest of Mr. Mitchell’s career at sea was nowhere near as eventful, but it did provide him the opportunity to explore foreign lands.

He was accompanied by his wife on many of his journeys, although she was not on the London Valour as she had been in the process of moving from the Carlisle area to Stainton. Retirement around 20 years ago gave him and his wife further time to travel the world. While at home Mr. Mitchell’s hobbies included darts.

For the last two months he was treated in the Carlton ward of Penrith hospital, where he was very well looked after by staff.

Mr. Mitchell is survived by his wife, Mary, and his brother, Eric, who lives in Cambridgeshire.