15 April 1912 – 2,240 passengers and crew aboard; 1,500 lives lost; a handful of survivors returning home with the most haunting recollections – the sinking of the Titanic marked one of the greatest tragedies in the history of sea voyages. Relive the horrific series of events through a terrifying time-lapse as we dive into the sea-green depths of facts, conspiracy theories, and survivors’ accounts.
Seldom are the lives of the survivors talked about, or the deaths of the departed commemorated, their stories lost behind the heart-wrenching, fictional tales of Jack and Rose. The actual series of events, however, is much more horrific. The Titanic was designed to withstand any damage – it was deemed an unsinkable ship. And yet, it plowed the unreachable surface of the North Atlantic Ocean after 137 hours into its maiden voyage.
On 10 April 1912, the Titanic glinted gloriously under the Sun, rigid for two hours as the passengers filtered into the ship to be a part of the historic voyage from Southampton to New York City. One glance at the ship would have been enough to describe the Titanic as the unsinkable ship – ginormous and extravagant.
It was on April 10 that the Titanic sailed magnificently into the horizon, the Southampton dock left behind nothing more than a pinprick. The iron vessel glinted across the Atlantic as it waded over towards the welcome arms of the New York City. The Yankees, however, were fated to an eternal wait, as they still stand with their arms outstretched, looking into the horizon for a light that would never shine.
The journey was luxurious, with passengers having a great expanse on the ship’s deck to stroll around. Indeed, the free space allotted to the elites is what caused such a tremendous loss of life. Thomas Andrews, the ship’s chief designer, had argued that the ship should have more lifeboats to ensure maximum security for the passengers. If his proposal were accepted, there would’ve been enough lifeboats for everyone aboard. Unfortunately, this theory could never be tested – Bruce Ismay, president of the White Star Line, dismissed the argument as the inclusion of more lifeboats would mean lesser space for the first-class passengers to stroll upon.
The boat sailed smoothly for a couple of days till April 14. The passengers were immersed neck-deep in extravagance, oblivious to the rhythmic thumping of the ticking clock. The trouble began when the scarlet of the skies was replaced by the pitch-black arrival of the gathering gloom. The captain of the ship, Edward Smith, retired to his room at quarter past nine. A lot of things could’ve gone right if he had decided to hang around for just a few more minutes.
At three-quarters past nine, the Titanic received the last and the most significant of the 7 warnings about ice fields in the North Atlantic Ocean in the wireless room. The warning, however, never made it to the captain as the message didn’t carry the prefix “MSG”, which was needed to mark the warning as “urgent” and requiring special attention from the captain. The radio operator, Jack Phillips, noticed the lack of the prefix and decided the warning didn’t hold enough weight to wake the Captain up. The ship, therefore, sailed steadily towards its doom.
It was 11:40pm when the crew aboard the Titanic spotted the iceberg. However, there was just enough time to strafe the ship sideward. The iceberg struck the ship on the starboard (right) side within 60 seconds.
“Come at once, we have struck a berg, it’s a CQD old man,” Jack Phillips’ words rang through the dead of the night.
Water started filtering in and the engines were ordered to halt. The Titanic was no longer the majestic, immortal figure that the newspapers lauded. It was now a rigid mass of panic, kept afloat only by the prayers and murmurs of the souls onboard. The next few minutes were frantic – the crew worked tirelessly to minimize the damage and the authorities still doubted whether the Titanic would sink. Supposedly, many of them tried to assure the passengers that no harm would befall them; and never since in the history of lies have falser words been uttered.
“There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers,” – Phillip Franklin, the VP of White Star Line was heard assuring the frantic families of those on board the Titanic.
“I thought her unsinkable and I based my opinion on the best expert advice” were his words in front of an agonized courtroom days after the great tragedy.
It was at the stroke of midnight on 15 April that the fated day arrived. The captain ordered that the lifeboats be prepared, the passengers woken, and the entire crew summoned. There was a great deal of confusion; and a greater deal of disbelief. Thomas Andrews, the chief naval architect, was the most vocal about the ship’s slim chances of survival. He spent the final hours of his life ensuring that he saved the lives of as many families as he could. His body was never found amid the ruins of his creation.
At a quarter past midnight, the famous orchestra rang through the panic-stricken lounge of the Titanic. The brave orchestrators continued playing their sweet melodies of hope and life till the final moment – till the freezing waters claimed their bodies, but never their spirits. None of them survived.
“Many brave things were done that night but none braver than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea… the music they played serving alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recorded on the scrolls of undying fame.” – Lawrence Beesley, Titanic survivor.
The Titanic sent out its first distress call before the lifeboats were lowered. SS Frankfurt was the first to respond to Titanic’s pleas. The Carpathia responded to Titanic’s distress rockets; the vessel, however, was 4 hours away from the Titanic, a ship that was already living on borrowed time.
The lifeboats kept being lowered – seldom did any of them were filled to the brim due to the chaotic nature of the crowd. It was at this point that the authorities agreed on their famous “women-and-children-only policy”. At one point, Fifth Officer Lowe had to fire his pistol into the air to keep a mob of men from entering into the lifeboats.
The Titanic kept on sending messages, hoping against hope, as if their messages would be received by an unearthly savior. That never happened. Their last legible message to the world is equally haunting – “come as quickly as possible, engine room flooded up to the boilers”.
The Titanic’s borrowed time ran out. At 2:12 am, the ship began its descent into the sea. It still played home to 1,500 living souls. 480 seconds – roughly 480 heartbeats is all it took for the seas to claim the Titanic. Passengers onboard started jumping off the deck. Unfortunately, the temperature of the water was around 28 degrees Fahrenheit, below freezing.
“Striking the water was like a thousand knives being driven into one’s body. The temperature was 28 degrees, four degrees below freezing.” – Charles Lightoller, Second Officer.
The survivors were scattered around the dark waters; no help arrived for another 1.5 hours. Many perished amid the waves, some remained afloat.
“The sounds of people drowning are something that I can’t describe to you, and neither can anyone else. It’s the most dreadful sound and there is a terrible silence that follows it.” – Eva Hart, Titanic survivor.
And indeed, that silence arrived, with only the sound of the Titanic breaking apart underneath the surface of the water anchoring the survivors to reality. The silence was then broken by the arrival of The Carpathia, the vessel that sailed across a sea of bodies, not water. Only 705 souls survived the disaster.
“The press is calling these ships unsinkable and Ismay’s leadin’ the chorus. It’s just not true.” Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s chief naval architect.
From the outside, the fall of the Titanic seems like a big natural conspiracy, further fuelled by human hubris. The “unsinkable” sank, and the world suffered a tremendous loss of lives. When The Carpathia pulled up on the docks, families of the bereaved waited with their breaths held; looking and looking for the faces that now rested underneath the sapphire depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
Anzal Khan is a student pursuing B.Com Hons. from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan