Mon, 23 Apr, 2018
The call that sealed the fate of Titanic victims
On the night the Titanic sank, there was one fateful call that sealed the fate of the victims.
Just after midnight on April 15, 1912, two boats received distress calls that the “unsinkable” ship was sinking.
The nearest boat to the Titanic, the Californian, was less than 20km from the disaster, yet when Captain Stanley Lord received the news, he decided not to act.
Surrounded by icebergs, he didn’t move his ship, didn’t contact the Titanic and didn’t wake up his wireless operators.
“The hazard to himself and his command was too great to risk responding,” Titanic researcher Daniel Allen Butler told news.com.au. “The Californian did nothing.”
Captain Lord later argued that he did not realise the rockets were a distress signal and was further away from the ship than 20km, however, a British inquiry found that if the Captain had decided to push through, the Californian “might have saved many, if not all, of the lives that were lost”.
“Such conduct, whether arising from indifference or gross carelessness, is most reprehensible, and places upon the commander of the Californian a grave responsibility,” a US senate inquiry decided.
While Captain Stanley decided to ignore the strange activity, another captain who was more than 100km away, decided to act immediately and his heroism led to the rescue of 705 people.
The Carpathia’s wireless operator, Harold Cottam, had sent a message to his counterpart on the Titanic to let him know there were messages from shore for his passengers.
The response “literally made Cottam’s blood run cold” Butler said.
The response he received was a distress call with the Titanic’s call letters followed by coordinates.
The operator ran to Captain Arthur Rostron’s cabin, ignoring protocol and said, “The Titanic has sent out a distress call, she needs our assistance immediately.”
The Captain immediately directed his first officer, “Mr Dean, turn this ship around. I’ll work out the course for you in a moment. Now, Cottam, are you sure it’s the Titanic and are you sure she needs our assistance?”
As the ship turned around to assist the Titanic, officers were instructed to make room for up to 2000 people, moving passengers into new cabins and transforming pump rooms into temporary dormitories.
The rescue mission was dangerous and the captain later said that he believed “some other hand than mine was on the helm that night”.
The ship arrived at 4am, nearly an hour-and-a-half after the Titanic sank.
When they arrived and didn’t see the ship, they realised the only survivors were in lifeboats.
For the next four hours, the ship rushed back and forth collecting boats.
Most of the survivors were hauled up into the ship because they didn’t have the strength to climb the ropes.
Captain Rostron counted the 705 survivors his ship had collected and decided to return to New York.
At daybreak, the Californian arrived at the scene of the Titanic’s historic tragedy.
“He would have been collecting boats full of corpses.”