NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Koch made quite a traffic-stopping impression last May when he toured Lake Pontchartrain in his 23-foot long replica of the Titanic, marking 100 years since its ill fated voyage.
Inside Koch’s Metairie home is a shipwreck museum, but not of the Titanic. It’s of the Andrea Doria.
On July 25, 1956, the Swedish ocean liner Stockholm collided with the SS Andrea Doria off the northeast United States as it neared New York, with the Doria listing badly on its side.
Half of the ships 16 lifeboats were unusable and 51 people died, but the other eight lifeboats and a massive maritime rescue saved nearly 1,700 others.
“The sinking of the Andrea Doria is, as David Bright referred to it as, the Mt. Everest of shipwrecks,” he said. “So I've had the interest in the Andrea Doria since I was a young child.”
It’s been nearly 60 years since the Andrea Doria went down off the coast of New York, and today only two lifeboats exist.
Mark Koch owns both of them.
“So I viewed it as a wonderful opportunity to further promote our concept of bringing history to life and using these boats to once again tell the story of the Andria Doria.”
He purchased them both on eBay in 2007 for $11,000. Lifeboat number one sits in Metairie, and lifeboat number 13, the first lifeboat off the Doria that night, is dry docked on a piece of property in Lafitte.
Koch is a deep-sea diver for the oil industry by trade, but it is shipwrecks and their sunken stories of life and death that are his passion.
“I get a sense of history. I sit there and think about what it would have been like on that foggy night, July 25, 1956, when the Stockholm came out of the fog and hit just below where the number one was positioned.”
A friend of old boats, Koch won't let them die, whether it’s a Vietnamese pirogue or a 1958 feathercraft, there are 10 vessels in his armada.
The historic number 13, still with its original wood siding, will remain untouched, a snapshot of history.
But the number one lifeboat will be restored, put back into the water and travel to different museums around the nation, providing Koch an opportunity to do what he likes most – educate.
“So it’s not just going to be a static artifact. It’s going to be an artifact that people can get in and actually function, propel – this is a self-propelled boat -- and use it in that capacity to teach the next generation of what happened that night in 1956.
Koch didn't intend to cause all the commotion with the Titanic, but it made people ask questions and learn a bit of history. He's hoping to do the same with the only reminders left of the Andrea Doria's final voyage.