Scenes of horror, suffering and rare heroism mark sinking of monster ocean liner
Cape Race, April 16. – Scenes of horror, marked by intense suffering and rare heroism, marked the sinking of the Titanic on the ice-strewn banks of Newfoundland.
The whole story will not be known until the Carpathia steams into New York with the pitiful band of survivors, but much of it can be pieced together from the disjointed messages received by wireless operators here, and from the knowledge of conditions.
The ocean and weather conditions
The field of ice on which the Titanic met death has been floating in the path of westbound trans-Atlantic liners for several weeks. The field is twenty miles square. It is made up of several huge icebergs, with smaller ones and floes scattered between.
Sunday was cloudy and foggy all day long, but the Titanic was racing along, almost at full speed. Partly, this seems to have been because Captain Smith wished to cut a day off the Titanic’s scheduled time; partly, because the Titanic proved herself unmanageable when not under good headway.
The smash came at 10:25 o’clock Sunday night. The night was black as pitch then. There was not a star out. The moon had not risen. The atmosphere was thick and muggy, with that peculiar, sticky thickness of the Newfoundland banks at this time of year.
Most of the passengers were in bed. But all must have been wakened. The rending crash of steel on ice, the sharp tilting of the great steamer as the iceberg threw her torn prow into the air, the sogging, swirling inrush of water must have roused every soul on board to face death.
The ship’s company — 2,358 men and women — gathered on the great of the floating hotel, so soon to become the grave of 1,492. Many of them were clad only in nightclothes, just as they were when aroused from sleep by the grinding crash of the collision.
The flaring of sea signals of distress were burned red, and blue and green lighting up the desolate scene of death. Rockets starred the sky. The snapping of the wireless, sending out the “SOS, SOS” of distress, dominated the scene, giving the huddled men and women their one glimmer of hope.
The ship’s officers knew from the first that the Titanic was sinking, that she probably would go to the bottom before any rescuing ship could reach her. There is no mistaking the lurching, sickening roll of a foundering ship.
Women and children first
Then rose the cry for the boats, and there is one thing that always will make the wreck of the Titanic stand out in the minds of men as long as the world goes on.
Ever since the first messages of horror this morning, it has been plain that there never was need for the order of “women and children first.” The men stood aside, and pushed their women folk toward the boat decks, where the few, inadequate life boats were filled and lowered as quickly as possible. And the women of the steerage, the frightened, ununderstanding immigrant women, were treated even as the first ladies of the land. There was no distinction of rank.
The farewell, lighted up by the flaring signals of distress, was a ghastly scene. Wives and sweethearts, sisters and mothers, kissing good-bye to the men they well knew they never might see again, while the wounded giant of the sea, staggered and lurched like a drunken thing, in the trough of the ocean.
The Titanic carried the maximum number of lifeboats and life rafts. But it must have been plain from the first that they were pitifully inadequate. There were only 20 lifeboats, and what were twenty boats among 2,358 men, women and children?
The passengers were lied to at the first. They were told that help was coming as fast as ships could steam. But it soon became plain how little hope there was. For the ship’s officers began to hurry the weeping women and children in to the boats, and on the ears of the doomed men fell the last orders to the crews of the boats:
“Get as far away from us as you can and as fast as you can or you’ll be dragged to the bottom in the swirl of waters caused by the plunge.”
Weeping women, sobbing out last farewells! The staggering, threatening roll of the great ship, ever increasing! The frenzied work of the pumps! The snapping of the wireless! And the horrible darkness!
Nearly useless lifebelts and lifebuoys
After the women had gone, the 3,455 lifebelts were given out and the 48 lifebuoys placed where they could be used.
But only the most ignorant were unaware of how futile these were. When the giant Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea, she would cause a whirlpool that would drag every living thing within a radius of one mile far in to the icy depths of the waters.
At 12:27 o’clock, the water reached the motor, and the cracking of the wireless ceased. The white-faced operator came from his machine, and threw up his hands. Shortly after this, a thunderstorm bore down out of the North. With it came the wind, and the sea began to lash itself into fury as if hungry for its prey.
Probably the small boats, bobbing like helpless little corks amid the field of storm-tossed ice did not see the end. They must have rowed far from the parent ship, and save for an occasional flash of sheet lightning, it was very dark. So the women were spared that. But the waiting, the fearful, agonized, hopeless waiting in the dark and bitter cold may have cost many of them their reason.
One of the things that carries out this belief is that the Carpathia did not wait to pick up any possible survivors clinging to buoys, but steamed directly toward New York. The Carpathia has only one doctor on board. Probably the majority of the 866 survivors she picked up are in the most urgent need of medical attention.
The Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, still is cruising about the scene of the disaster, in the faint hope that some may yet be saved, and is acting as a relay wireless to this point.