Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Titanic, Iceberg Collides

Previously in The Sinking of the Titanic. And now William Inglis.

Time: April 15, 1912
Place: Atlantic Ocean, 41.46 N., 50.14 W

The Voyage of the Titanic
GNU image from Wikipedia.
Not only were the bergs invisible to the keenest eyes, but the sudden drop in the temperature of the ocean which ordinarily is the warning of the nearness of a berg was now of no avail; for there were so many of the bergs and so widely scattered that the temperature of the sea was uniformly cold. Moreover, the submarine bell, which gives warning to navigators of the neighborhood of shoal water, does not signify the approach of icebergs. The newest ocean giant was in deadly peril, though probably few of her passengers guessed it, so reassuring are the huge bulk, the skilful construction, the watertight compartments, the able captain and crew, to the mind of the landsman. Dinner was long past, and many of the passengers doubtless turned to thoughts of supper after hours of talk or music or cards; for there were not many promenading the cold, foggy decks of the onrushing steamship.

The Titanic was about eight hundred miles to the southeastward of Halifax, three hundred and fifty miles southeast of treacherous Cape Race, when her great body dashed, glancing, against an enormous berg. The discipline and good order for which British captains and British sailors have long been noted prevailed in this crisis; for it is proven by the fact that the rescued were nearly all women and children.

From that rich, rushing, gay, floating world, with its saloons and baths and music-rooms and elevators, now suddenly shattered into darkness, only one utterance came. Phillips, the wireless operator, seized his key and telegraphed in every direction the call "S O S!" Gossiping among telegraphers hundreds of miles apart, messages of business import, all the scores of things that fill the ocean air with tremulous whisperings of etheric waves, began to give over their chattering. Again and again Phillips repeated the letters which spell disaster until the air for a thousand miles around was electrically silent. Then he sent his message:

"Have struck an iceberg; badly damaged; rush aid; steamship Titanic; 41.46 N., 50.14 W."

There was no other ship in sight. Far as the eye could reach no spot of light broke the gray darkness; yet other ships could hear and read the cry for help, and, wheeling in their courses, they drove full speed ahead for the wreck. The Baltic, two hundred miles to the eastward, bound for Europe, turned back to the rescue; the Olympic, still farther away, hastened to the aid of her sister ship; the Cincinnati, Prince Adelbert, Amerika, the Prinz Friederich Wilhelm, and many others, abandoned all else to fly to help those in danger. Nearest of all was the Carpathia, bound from New York for Mediterranean ports, only sixty miles away. And as they all, with forced draft and every possible device for adding to speed, dashed through the misty night on their errand of mercy, Phillips, of the Titanic, kept wafting from his key the story of disaster. The thing he repeated oftenest was: "Badly damaged. Rush aid." Now and then he gave the ship's position in latitude and longitude as nearly as it could be estimated by her officers as she was carried southward by the current that runs swiftly in this northern sea, so that the rescuers could keep their prows accurately pointed toward the wreck. Soon he began to announce, "We are down by the head and sinking rapidly." About one o'clock in the morning the last words from Phillips rippled through the heavy air, "We are almost gone."

The crew were summoned to their stations; the lifeboats and liferafts were swiftly provisioned and furnished with water as well as could be done. Yet this provision could hardly have been very extensive, since it has long been an accepted axiom of the sea that the modern giant ships are indestructible, or at least unsinkable.

"Women and children first," the order long enforced among all decent men who use the sea, was the word passed from man to man as the boats were filled, the boatfalls rattled, and the frail little cockleshells were lowered into the calm sea. What farewells there were on those dark and reeking decks between husbands and wives and all other men and women of the same family one can hardly dare think about. Steadily the work of filling the boats and lowering away went on until the last frail craft had been dropped upon the ocean from the sides of the liner and the whole little fleet rose and fell on the sea beside the great black hulk. And when the last crowded boat had come down and there was no possibility of removing one more human being from the wreck, there were still more than fifteen hundred men on her decks. So far had belief in the invulnerability of the modern ship curtailed sane and proper provision for taking care of her people in time of calamity.

One can imagine with what frantic but impotent hope, as the sinking decks and menacing plash of waters within told of the imminent last plunge, those thousands of eyes strained at the misty wall of grayish black that enclosed them on every hand. Not one gleam of light in any quarter. The last horrible gurglings within the waterlogged shell of steel that a little while before had been the proudest ship of all the seas told unmistakably that the end was at hand. Down by the head went the giant Titanic at twenty minutes past two o'clock on Monday morning, April 15th. And she took fifteen hundred people with her.

Four hours passed before the shivering people in the small boats heard the siren whistle that announced the approach of a steamship from the south. There was a heavy fog and they could not see one hundred fathoms off over the clashing and grinding ice that floated in fields on every side. Soon after seven o'clock in the morning the ship came in sight and presently hove to among the fleet of boats and liferafts--the steamship Carpathia, out of New York on April 11th for Mediterranean ports. She began at once to take aboard the survivors, and in a few hours had every boat hoisted aboard. The Olympic and Baltic, learning by wireless that the rescues had all been effected, proceeded on their way.

Continued on Sunday, May 31st.

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