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QE2 passengers reminded of 1992 accident

When the luxury liner ran aground off Martha’s Vineyard, tragedy was averted

Nat Welch, with wife, Debra, on the QE2, said the “ship started to vibrate’’

Handout

Nat Welch, with wife, Debra, on the QE2, said the “ship started to vibrate’’

For Nat Welch and his wife, Debra, the Queen Elizabeth 2 was the perfect place to celebrate 10 years of marriage.

It was Aug. 7, 1992, and the ship was cruising by the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As the couple sat down to dinner in the Queen’s Grill, the poshest dining room on the vessel, they felt a long, deep shudder.

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“The ship started to vibrate, as if we were on a bumpy road,’’ Welch recalled. “Everyone was quiet, but once it stopped, we all started to eat again.’’

An aerial view showed where the Queen Elizabeth 2 ran aground off the coast of Nantucket Aug. 7, 1992, and torn a 74-foot gash in the hull.

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 1992

An aerial view showed where the Queen Elizabeth 2 ran aground off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard on Aug. 7, 1992, and torn a 74-foot gash in the hull.

What they didn’t know: The vessel had run aground, a 74-foot gash was torn in the hull, and within hours, the 1,800 passengers would all be evacuated.

For those passengers on the Queen Elizabeth 2, news of the Friday accident involving the Costa Concordia off the coast of Tuscany sounded familiar, with one exception: In the 1992 accident, no passengers were seriously injured.

Welch, now 57, said the QE2 accident two decades ago was his first thought upon hearing of the latest cruise disaster.

“When I first heard about the ship in Italy, I thought back immediately to the QE2, because it was a really interesting footnote to our family history,’’ Welch said.

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The Queen Elizabeth 2, built in 1967, was retired from active service in 2008.

Thirteen stories high, 963 feet long, and 67,000 tons, it was once the largest ocean liner in the world. In 1992, it featured luxury amenities once considered extravagant by cruise-goers: swimming pools, a jogging track, a computer center, sauna, gym, and high-end stores such as Gucci, Christian Dior, and Harrod’s department store.

After the 1992 accident, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the ship had hit uncharted rocks and blamed the ship’s officers and harbor pilot for failing to plan a safe course through Vineyard Sound.

Among the passengers during that voyage were novelist Tom Clancy and Academy Award-winning actor George Kennedy.

As passengers waited to evacuate, the ship’s crew hastily planned special piano concerts, Broadway shows, and a financial-planning seminar to keep the crowds entertained. Free alcoholic beverages were also provided to all passengers.

Welch’s wife, Debra, recalled that once the passengers realized they would need to evacuate the ship, they decided to make the best of their situation.

“Everyone kind of relaxed, and it took a festive, partylike atmosphere,’’ she said, recalling that some passengers used video cameras to conduct joking interviews with other passengers.

After the accident, the ship was towed to South Boston for patch-up repairs, before returning to Europe. Some in Boston said they were grateful for the nautical mishap, because boat repairs brought 200 much-needed, albeit temporary, jobs.

When the ship left Boston almost a month after the accident, shipworkers wore T-shirts with the phrase, “Boston Fixed the Queen,’’ and crew on the deck unfurled a banner reading, “Bye, bye, Boston.’’

While still aboard the ship and waiting for a ferry to land, Nat Welch was contacted by a television news station via satellite phone. When asked whether the ship’s crew had taken any extraordinary measures to ensure passenger’s safety, he chuckled. “One of the big questions is, will they keep the casinos open?’’ Welch joked.

But the Costa Concordia accident, Welch said, inspires no such humor. “With all the modern advancement in navigation, how could that have happened?’’ Welch said yesterday. “These poor folks out there, I can just imagine - the sensation must have been horrific.’’

While Welch said he has continued to enjoy cruise vacations, even after the QE2 accident, he is more concerned about safety oversight on cruise ships.

“Cruising can be so much fun, yet you have these big things that can happen that can change your life,’’ Welch said. “I have a good story, and I had my 15 minutes of fame. But my story ended up very differently from the people on that [Costa Concordia] cruise.’’

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.

In a previous version of this story, it stated that the accident happened off the coast of Nantucket. The accident happened off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

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