Page 5 -- continued from page 4:

laughed at him for the quaint superstition at such a time, and it was good to laugh again, but he showed his disbelief in another superstition when he added, 'Well, I shall never say again that 13 is an unlucky number. Boat 13 is the best friend we ever had.'"

The increasing light disclosed the incredible danger to the Titanic. The survivors saw vast amounts of floating ice, dotted here and there with 100-foot icebergs of different colors as the sun struck them," passenger Hugh Woolner testified later. One little boy was enchanted with the scene. Douglas Spedden told his mother, "Oh, Muddie, look at the beautiful North Pole with no Santa Claus on it!"

After a night of false alarms, some of the survivors did not recognize rescue when it was at hand. A Mrs. Stephenson in Boat 4 recalled that "Just before daylight on the horizon we saw what we felt sure must be the lights of a ship. The quartermaster was a long time in admitting that we were right, urging that it was the moon." In Boat 6 a Miss Norton, glancing around the horizon, exclaimed, "There is a flash of lightning." Hitchens replied, "It is a falling star." Actually, it was the Cunard liner Carpathia,

under the command of Arthur Rostron, firing rockets to let them know that help was on the way.

Captain Rostron was not nicknamed the Electric Spark for nothing. As soon as his crew had told him the Titanic was sinking he changed course; only afterward did he ask if they were sure of their information. And to reach the Titanic at the earliest possible moment he put on every ounce of steam, to the extent of cutting off the passengers' hot water!

Rostron also ordered extra lookouts and, with the Carpathia dodging icebergs at full speed, reached the Titanic's radioed position at around 4 a.m., covering the 60 miles in 3.5 hours -- 30 minutes faster than Rostron's original estimate. His ship picked up all the survivors. For his efforts Rostron received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The sinking of the Titanic sent an electric shock through the Gilded Age. Later at the British inquiry the second officer was asked the reason for the tragedy.

"Well, in the first place," Charles Lightoller responded, "there was no Moon...."

Delving Deeper

THE STORY OF THE TITANIC as Told by its Survivors (Dover, New York, 1960) gives first-hand accounts by Beesley, Lightoller, and others. Geoffrey Marcus's The Maiden Voyage (Manor Books, New York, 1974) explains how ship's time was found from sextant and Sun. Walter Lord's A Night to Remember (Bantam Books, New York, 1955) provides a vivid account of the sinking. His book was also made into the least inaccurate movie about the fateful voyage. The Titanic by Wyn Craig Wade (Penguin Books, New York, 1980) focuses mainly on the sinking as told in the Senate hearings held a few days afterward. The Discovery of the Titanic by Robert D. Ballard (Warner/Madison Press, Toronto, 1987) tells of finding the ship on the ocean floor and discusses many aspects of the sinking.

All astronomical computations made here relied on Lode Star II Plus with refraction turned on. We could not determine the ship's orientation and motion after it struck the iceberg. Accounts also vary as to the number of casualties; all figures given here are round numbers, probably accurate to two dozen or so.

This article was written by:


Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, MD 20771


 | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5

Squiggle line