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Titanic – Investigating the Disaster

Model of the Titanic

Investigations into the Titanic disaster were planned before the survivors were even brought back to New York. The United States Senate brought an inquiry about on April 19, just one day after Carpathia brought the survivors to New York. The inquiry chairman in the Senate, Senator William Alden Smith, decided to round up passengers and crew for their accounts of what happened while the incident was still freshly imprinted in their minds. Smith also subpoenaed British citizens who were still on American soil, keeping them from returning to the United Kingdom until the inquiry was over on May 25.

A British inquiry helmed by Lord Mersey began on May 2nd, and lasted until July 3rd. During which, the testimony of the passengers and crew aboard Titanic, and crew members from Californian and Carpathia were taken into account. Investigations led to the assumption that safety rules were out of date, and new laws were needed in order to prevent a similar disaster from taking place. The improved safety laws included: improved hull and bulkhead design, access throughout the ship for more efficient passenger movement, better lifeboat requirements, improved life-vest designs, regular safety drills, improved passenger notification, and more advanced radio communication laws. Investigations also led the inquiry team to discover that while first-class passengers had plenty of lifeboat space, third-class passengers were not even aware of where the lifeboats where, or even easy access to get to them if they did.

The SS Californian and Captain Stanley Lord were found to have failed in properly assisting Titanic. It was discovered that while the Californian had observed the lights of Titanic at 10:10 pm, and had attempted to warn by radio the Titanic of the icebergs ahead, they were angrily dismissed by Jack Phillips, the wireless operator of Titanic. By 11:50 pm, officers aboard Californian had noticed Titanic’s sharp turn, giving them a port side view, and had attempted Morse light communication between 11:30 pm and 1:00 am. However, Californian’s Morse lamp reportedly had a distance of only four miles, making it invisible to Titanic officers. Captain Lord relieved his post at 11:30 pm, and Second Officer Herbert Stone notified the Captain at 1:15 am that Titanic had fired five rockets. The Captain gave instructions to continue attempting communication with Morse lamp, then went back to sleep. Three more rockets were seen at 1:50 am, and Stone noticed that Titanic appeared to be listing. At 2:15 am, Captain Lord was notified that the ship was no longer visible. To this, Lord asked if any of the rockets had colors in them, and he was informed that they were all white. The Californian eventually responded at 5:30 am, when Chief Officer George Stewart awakened the Wireless operator Cyril Evans to inform him of the rockets that had been seen during the night. They were then notified by Frankfurt that the Titanic had sunk, and the Californian then set out to help.

Inquires dictated that Californian was closer than 19.5 miles to Titanic, and that if Captain Lord had awakened the wireless operator after the first rockets were seen they would have been able to save many lives. In 1990, a re-opening of the Titanic inquiry found that Californian was farther away from what the British inquiry had found, and the while distress rockets could have been seen, the Titanic herself would not have been visible from Californian.

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