Bay Area’s ‘Titanic’ discovered beyond Golden Gate Bridge

rio de janeiro

More than a century after the SS City of Rio de Janeiro slipped beneath the chilly waters off the coast of San Francisco, taking 128 individuals with her, researchers have located the final resting place of the ill-fated vessel.

The steamer, carrying 210 people, struck jagged rocks while traveling through heavy fog near Fort Point, at the southern end of the Golden Gate Strait, near today’s Golden Gate Bridge, and sank within 10 minutes.

The disaster, called the Bay Area’s Titanic, is considered the worst shipwreck in San Francisco history.

New sonar maps show the mud-covered grave of the City of Rio 287 feet below the surface, according to Live Science.

Most of the passengers and nearly all of the crew were Chinese, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 345-foot ship’s last voyage began in China, with stops in Yokohama, Japan; and Honolulu, Hawaii, before heading for San Francisco Bay. The Chronicle described the ship’s final hours:

Fog obscured the Golden Gate on the night of Feb. 21, 1901, so Capt. William Ward anchored the ship just off the Cliff House, in sight of San Francisco.

But before dawn, the fog seemed to lift, and after consulting with Capt. Frederick Jordan, the bar pilot, Ward weighed anchor and headed for the Golden Gate. The fog closed in again, however, and about 5:30 a.m. Feb. 22, the Rio ran onto the rocks.

There was tremendous confusion, according to accounts at the time. The officers and crew spoke different languages, and the lifeboats were never launched. The ship’s lights went out, and the ship drifted off the rocks and sank.

“Fishermen in the area, hearing the ship’s distress calls, helped rescue 82 survivors, many plucked from makeshift rafts and floating wreckage,” according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which helped located the City of Rio. “The dead included Chinese and Japanese immigrants as well as the US Consul General in Hong Kong, who was returning to the US with his wife and two children. The entire family died in the tragedy.”

The ship had lain undiscovered since the disaster, and was found by one of NOAA’s remote submersibles last month. The wreckage was located just a half a mile from San Francisco’s shores, just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, which was built in the 1930s.

Last month, the companies Hibbard Inshore and Bay Marine Services donated a research vessel and crew to NOAA for a day. The agency was able to look for the City of Rio using a 3D sonar device known as Echoscope developed by the company Coda Octopus. NOAA was able to find and map the City of Rio, and the crew even had time to map the nearby SS City of Chester, a wreck that was recently rediscovered.

The City of Chester, destined for Eureka, Calif., in the extreme northern part of the state, sank on Aug. 22, 1888, after colliding with the RMS Oceanic, a ship that was arriving from Asia. Of the 90 people on board, 16 were killed.

The City of Rio is described as being in bad shape. It is collapsing under a thick layer of mud and at some point since it sank its front half broke off and slid down a 65-foot slope. It is considered unsalvageable given its depth and the strong currents in the Golden Gate Strait, according to Live Science.

(Top: SS City of Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Maritime Museum.)

5 thoughts on “Bay Area’s ‘Titanic’ discovered beyond Golden Gate Bridge

      • We live with tragedy in auto transportation, and continue doing it. In those days one accident took so many lives. It still does when we fly or go on a cruise, it just doesn’t happen as often, so we consider to think it is safe. Truthfully, it is never safe to be up in the air or on the ocean, I’m sure. It may be safer, but to have that much responsibility for people’s lives must be a lot of pressure!

  1. So serious and not sure why we are not familiar with this story. So fascinating… would love to see the remains and treasures! Merry Christmas and the best, most fun times wished for the New Year, too.

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