April 15

This Day in History

Disaster

Apr 15, 1912:

"Unsinkable" Titanic sinks

The RMS Titanic, billed as unsinkable, sinks into the icy waters of the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage, killing 1,517 people.

The United Kingdom's White Star Line built the Titanic to be the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. It was nearly 900 feet long and more than 100 feet high. The Titanic could reach speeds of 30 knots and was thought to be the world's fastest ship. With its individualized watertight compartments, it was seen as virtually unsinkable.

On its first voyage, from Southampton, England, to New York with stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland, the Titanic was carrying 2,206 people, including a crew of 898. A relatively mild winter had produced a bumper crop of icebergs in the North Atlantic, but the crew, believing their ship was unsinkable, paid scant attention to warnings.

On the night of Sunday, April 14, other ships in the area reported icebergs by radio, but their messages were not delivered to the bridge or the captain of the Titanic. The iceberg that struck the ship was spotted at 11:40 p.m. Although a dead-on collision was avoided, the Titanic's starboard side violently scraped the iceberg, ripping open six compartments. The ship's design could withstand only four compartments flooding.

Minutes later, the crew radioed for help, sending out an SOS signal, the first time the new type of help signal was used. Ten minutes after midnight, the order for passengers to head for the lifeboats was given. Unfortunately, there were only lifeboats for about half of the people on board. Additionally, there had been no instruction or drills regarding such a procedure and general panic broke out on deck.

The survivors--those who successfully made it onto the lifeboats--were largely women who were traveling first class. In fact, the third-class passengers were not even allowed onto the deck until the first-class female passengers had abandoned the ship. White Star President Bruce Ismay jumped onto the last lifeboat though there were women and children still waiting to board.

At 2:20 a.m., the Titanic finally sank. Breaking in half, it plunged downward to the sea floor. Captain Edward Smith went down with the ship. The Carpathia arrived about an hour later and rescued the 705 people who made it onto the lifeboats. The people who were forced into the cold waters all perished.

Official blame for the tragedy was placed on the captain and bridge crew, all of whom had died. In the wake of the accident, significant safety-improvement measures were established, including a requirement that the number of lifeboats on board a ship reflect the entire number of passengers. The sinking of the Titanic has become a legendary story about the dangers of hubris.

In 1985, after many attempts over many years, divers were finally able to locate the wreckage of the Titanic on the floor of the North Atlantic.

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