Titanic Goes Down, 1500 Feared Dead


April 15, 1912

titanic.jpg1) DailyPast.com correspondent James Wiley found himself aboard the RMS Carpathia and at the centre of a rescue drama as the ship races to the rescue of over 700 passengers aboard the RMS Titanic which sank below the Atlantic waves at around 2am this morning. Here is his report.

2) RMS Carpathia, 300 miles east of Newfoundland - The ship they said was unsinkable is no more. Vanished beneath the icy waters of the North Atlantic having taken approximately 1500 souls with her. I am aboard the RMS Carpathia among more than 700 desperate people who we lifted aboard in the early hours of this morning from lifeboats launched from the sinking liner between midnight and 2am.

3) This has been the longest and most dramatic of nights not only for those who have flirted with death in the icy seas but also for those who came to pluck them to safety. The Carpathia put herself at great risk to reach Titanic's position on a sea crowded with huge icebergs, one of which claimed the Titanic herself. Captain Rostron of the Carpathia answered an SOS call from the Titanic at about midnight last night and set about sailing the 50 miles through dangerous, ice-infested waters immediately.

4) Had it not been for the Carpathia, the loss of life may have been even higher.

Short Voyage

5) RMS Titanic left Southampton, England at noon last Wednesday, April 10. She was carrying 2340 passengers and crew among whom were some of the richest men and women in Europe and the United States. Bruce Ismay, the Director of White Star Lines, owners of the Titanic, was also aboard and witnesses have told me today that he is aboard the Carpathia, having saved himself and chosen not to go down with his ship as Captain Edward J Smith chose to do, alongside many of his fellow officers.

6) The Titanic was built in Belfast and came down to Southampton only about two weeks ago, on the 2nd of April. After leaving Southampton on the 10th, she stopped that evening in Cherbourg, France to pick up other passengers before heading overnight to Queenstown, Ireland.

7) Four days ago, on the 11th of April, at about 1.00pm, the Titanic left Queenstown to begin the Atlantic crossing which would have brought her to New York today.

8) She was destined never to arrive.

Heartbreaking Tales

9) I have spent much of the day today speaking to the bedraggled survivors and listening as they recount their haunting, harrowing tales.

10) What comes across as they begin is how all felt an unswerving assuredness that the Titanic couldn't actually, really sink. One survivor was told to go back to her cabin by a steward who, when asked if the passengers were in any danger, was compelled to respond, "Ma'am, this is the Titanic."

11) The Titanic struck the iceberg at 11.40pm. George Brayton, a first class passenger I spoke to, was strolling on the deck at the time when the ship's lookout screamed "Iceberg!". One can only imagine the feeling, being aboard last night. "It was possibly six hundred yards away and dead ahead. Officers in the bridge shouted some orders...when we saw he could not fail to hit it, we rushed to the stern." Captain Smith was then summoned to the bridge immediately. He had retired to his cabin earlier.

12) Many witness have told me that there was remarkable calm for some time after the collision. The ship stopped and settled into the water with agonising slowness as water poured in way below the passenger decks.

13) Lawrence Beesley is an English teacher by profession and was travelling second class last night. He told me about this calmness aboard. "We all walked up slowly with the life belts tied on over our clothing, but even then we presumed that this was merely a wise precaution the captain was taking. The ship was abruptly still...there were no visible signs of the approaching disaster.*"

14) This lack of real alarm cost many their life. At least at the beginning of the evacuation procedure, many of the lifeboats were leaving half full. Many felt unwilling to leave the "safety" of the ship to put themselves out onto the freezing water. Others have told me that few had much faith in the lifeboats themselves. By the time people realised the ship was going down, these half full lifeboats were far away from the doomed ship.

Dramatic End

15) I have heard hundreds of tales on board the Carpathia today of how the Titanic lived out its last moments. Most of the senior officers stayed aboard alongside Captain Smith to go down with the ship. The ship's band played on as long as possible to try and calm fears and avert a panic. Those who went into the water died in under an hour in water of around 32ºF. The enormous ship went under with hundreds still aboard and sucked many more under the waves with it.

16) I found a French artist, Paul Chevre, this afternoon and he concurred with what I had been told of the minutes following the Titanic going under the waves. "Suddenly the lights went out and an immense clamour filled the air in one supreme cry for help. At moments the cries of terror were lulled and we thought it was all over, but the next instant they were renewed in still keener accents. As for us, we did nothing but row, row, row to escape from the death cries."

17) When we arrived at the scene at around 4am, there were the desperate survivors scattered around the area in their lifeboats. We found no-one alive in the sea at that point.

18) We will probably stay around this area, though this will depend on what Carpathia's captain Arthur Henry Rostron decides. There is now almost no chance of finding anyone alive in these icy waters.

19) What will follow when we arrive in New York in a couple of days is a little unclear, though undoubtedly, there will be an inquiry with many points of reference. How can a supposedly unsinkable ship sink in two hours? How can a ship hope to steam through a well documented ice field at full speed? And, most pointedly, how can a ship carrying 2300 people set sail with enough lifeboats for only around a third of those aboard? We await answers.

By Neil Coghlan