The TSMS Lakonia cruise ship caught fire in a tragic disaster that saw 128 people burn or drown.
Joe benveniste somehow survived the disaster at the age of 19 after jumping 30 feet from the flames engulfing the ship, into the Atlantic Ocean.
But surviving the blaze was only half the battle as the Londoner spent the next five hours throwing up, losing consciousness and desperately trying to stay afloat.
Joe was eventually rescued from the Laconia disaster in 1963 near the Portuguese island of Madeira and spent the following decades hoping to thank the man who saved him.
After returning to Britain, the barber got married to his wife Vivian who, after Joe’s death two years ago at the age of 78, told the Daily Star about his deceased’s horrific escape husband.
Speaking on the 59th anniversary of the disaster, Vivian, who has several grandchildren with Joe, said: “He was watching a movie called Call Me Bwana with Bob Hope and he saw people running around.
“Eventually they shouted to abandon ship. If he had stayed on board he might have been saved, but he went down to his cabin which had been ransacked to retrieve some things.”
An investigation found that the fire had started due to faulty electrical wiring on the 34-year-old ship which had been so rusted that eight of the ship’s officers were charged with negligence.
Vivian explained that she never thought she would see Joe again when he left Southampton as manager of the ship’s hairdressing salon, but disaster was the last thing she thought of.
Vivian said: “The ship was repainted and made to look good, but it wasn’t. Everything was rusty, she was in terrible, terrible condition. Everything was painted over there on the dinghies. that did not descend. “
Incredibly, cork life jackets were so rare that Vivian claims the ship’s captain expected Joe to give up his.
She continued: “The Greek crew basically jumped up and took a lot of lifeboats and left people stranded, including the captain who asked Joe at the time if he could have Joe’s life jacket on it. ‘he obviously didn’t give it to her.
“And Joe started to go down the rope ladder and therefore he could see him as the people came down to the bottom. Because the boat was drifting he could see that they were overturned and died.”
Joe’s options became so limited that he was forced to risk drowning by being engulfed in the ship’s roaring flames.
“He decided to jump,” Vivian said. “So he jumped with this cork thing hanging down anyway and he jumped probably about 30 feet. Eventually he came up with an officer and they started swimming.
“He was 19 and thought he was a very good swimmer, but he realized after about an hour or so that he was going to die because he couldn’t stay afloat, he was sick. officer just swam.
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“He kept going and spending five hours in the water left him very weak.”
Long after all reasonable hope was lost, a rescuer from the British freighter Montcalm arrived, which had been deployed to search the water for survivors.
Vivian added: “A man swam and said, ‘My name is Alan, what’s yours?’ As he walked in and out of consciousness, he answered “Joe” and that was the last thing he knew.
“This guy Alan, whom he has never found since, saved his life.”
Writer Paul Bridger is turning Joe’s story into a book.