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Titanic’s legacy


When Titanic sank on 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic, it took just two hours and forty minutes for the ship to go down. 1,500 lives were lost. A large proportion of those who died were from the ranks of the crew and third-class (steerage) passengers, but the dreadful losses hit hard across all segments of society. And the freezing sea did not discriminate between age, class or gender.

‘Iceberg directly ahead’

At around 11.36 p.m. lookout, Fredrick Fleet, spotted something directly ahead. Moments later he recognised it as an iceberg. He called the bridge, ‘Iceberg directly ahead.’ First Officer Murdoch ordered the helm ‘hard a starboard’. The ship didn’t have enough time to manoeuvre around the iceberg and she struck along her starboard side. The collision damaged the hull below the waterline through six watertight compartments. Titanic was designed to remain afloat with four breached compartments, but not six. On inspection, Thomas Andrews, the ship’s chief designer, calculated the flooding rates and advised Captain Smith that the ship was doomed and would certainly sink.

At 12.27 a.m. the captain instructed radio operator Jack Phillips to start sending out a distress call: CQD. The eastbound steamer Carpathia, commanded by Captain Arthur Rostron, heard Titanic’s call at 12.37 a.m. and turned for the ship’s position.

Meanwhile on Titanic, Lifeboat No. 7 was the first away at 12.40 a.m. Several minutes later, Titanic’s fourth officer fired off the first distress rocket.

By 2.17 a.m. the ship’s stern was well clear of the water. Shortly thereafter the ship’s lights suddenly went out, flashing back on momentarily, and then turned off again. It was at this time Titanic broke into two. The stern section remained afloat for a further three minutes and then went under.

The first lifeboat came alongside Carpathia at 4.10 a.m. and the last at 8.15 a.m. With all 712 survivors on board, Carpathia swept the area in hopes of finding more survivors out of the 1,496 that were missing. With none found, she steamed to New York, arriving on the evening of 18 April.

Two investigations that changed sea travel forever

Following the loss of Titanic there were two governmental investigations. The US Senate Inquiry was held over April and May 1912, with the British Inquiry following from May to July of the same year. As a consequence of these inquires, several recommendations were made, including: wireless equipment on all passenger ships should be manned around the clock, sufficient lifeboats should be provided for all aboard, the requirement of scheduled lifeboat drills should be strictly adhered to. 

The Titanic inquiries led to the formation of an internationally recognised ice patrol to monitor the presence of icebergs in the North Atlantic and the updating of maritime safety regulations.

Discovery of Titanic’s wreck

After more than seventy years, the wreck of Titanic was finally discovered on 1 September 1985 by a joint French–American expedition led by Jean-Louis Michel of IFREMER and Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Titanic’s wreck is located approximately 370 miles (595km) south-south-east off the coast of Newfoundland, lying on a gently sloping plain at a depth of some 12,460ft (3,797m). The ship’s hull lies broken in two main sections. The 450ft (136.16m) bow section is separated some 1,700ft (518m) from that of the 350ft (106m) stern section.

Titanic lies more than 12,000ft below the icy waters of the North Atlantic, nothing more than a crumpled and dismembered steel hulk. But the story of Titanic and her crew, passengers and builders lives on. One hundred years from now Titanic’s name will still be remembered, forever linked with heroism, self-sacrifice and tragedy, and as an example of mankind’s foolish belief in the invincibility of technology.

With thanks to Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall

In the wake of the disaster

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