TOO ERR IS
Written by Rick Archer
SHAKEN FAITH IN
MAN'S ABILITY TO OVERCOME
Now that we have
examined several maritime incidents caused by misjudgment, now it is
time to ask, "What would make these seemingly
intelligent professionals do something so
To err is human.
That's for sure. No matter how well our technology is
designed, accidents still happen all the time. Sometimes those
mistakes turn into disasters.
You would assume that
training and experience would eliminate mistakes, but apparently
not. For example, sometimes 'experience' is the problem, not
the solution, if the technology changes faster than the people charged
with delivering the technology can cope.
On my Titanic
Memorial Cruise in April 2012, I met a man named Simon who tests airline pilots for
competency. Simon and I became friends.
Simon told me that in
his opinion Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, the pilot of the US Airways plane
that crashed into the Hudson River, was a hero of the first
magnitude. Simon shook his head in admiring disbelief as he discussed
Simon pointed out that
he had never heard of such an incredible feat before. The
imagination and the skill required to pull off that landing without
any major injuries or fatalities was way beyond amazing. By landing
the plane flat on the water, Sullenberger not only saved his own
passengers, but he avoided crashing into nearby Manhattan buildings.
Simon also pointed out Sullenberger's leadership. Sullenberger
searched the plane before exiting the plane. He walked the aisle of
the downed US Airways jet twice looking for passengers before
exiting the plane.
"I can imagine him being sufficiently in charge to get those people
out. He seems to have that kind of personality, which is to his
Simon switched gears at
that point; recent developments in airline
technology have outstripped the understanding of many older pilots.
Simon pointed to the 2009 airline crashes in Brazil and in Turkey as
examples of human errors caused by ignorance of new technology.
Curious, I did some
reading when I got home. I quickly found something that caught my
Wikipedia: Air France Flight 447 was a scheduled
commercial flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris involving an
Airbus A330-200 aircraft that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on
1 June 2009. The crash killed all 216 passengers and 12
While the investigation is still awaiting formal conclusion,
preliminary reports of the BEA stated that the aircraft crashed
following an aerodynamic stall caused by inconsistent airspeed
sensor readings, the disengagement of the autopilot, and the
pilot making nose-up inputs despite stall warnings, causing a
fatal loss of airspeed and a sharp descent.
reports indicated that the pilots had not received specific
training in "manual airplane handling of approach to stall and
stall recovery at high altitude", and that this was not a
standard training requirement at the time of the accident.
Besides the lack of
training with the new technology, there are all sorts of other
reasons for accidents: distraction, fatigue, pressure, lack of
concentration. Our friend Schettino was apparently
distracted by a woman and a phone. The man who crashed the Exxon Valdez
was said to be fatigued. Pressure to go too fast may have
doomed the Titanic. Lack of concentration may have caused the
defective cement job on Deepwater Horizon.
Whatever the reason, human error
haunts us like the Grim Reaper. Human stupidity and carelessness can
trump human cleverness a lot more easily than we are
Will man ever overcome his tendency to relax, to be
over-confident, to take things too much for granted? Or will
idiots like the men who captained the Oceanos, Exxon Valdez
and the Costa Concordia continue to be given more
responsibility than they deserve?
To me, many of these
stories all boil down to "Judgment".
In a famous 2008
campaign advertisement, Hillary Clinton brought up an interesting
question. If the hot line phone rang at 3 am with a crisis,
who did the American people trust the most to know what to do?
question. It was a brilliant move on Clinton's part that
almost turned the tide of the election back in her favor.
People in positions of
responsibility are forced to make decisions in critical situations.
That's their job. No matter how much
training and how experience someone might have, someday they may
face a situation that nothing in their training or their
experience had ever prepared them for. Will they react appropriately?
Perhaps they are forced to make a decision based on faulty,
conflicting or inadequate information. The risks are usually
enormous and often there isn't much time to think it over. We say people in these
perilous situations are forced to use their "judgment".
The one thing that
separates good leaders from bad leaders is that magical intangible
known as "good judgment". Judgment is the ability to make a
decision that is "wise". Good judgment is discretion, educated
guess, and common sense all rolled into one.
Let's face it, sometimes
there are situations in business, politics, and science that are so
complex that no one can be sure which is the right path to take.
In my opinion, good
judgment is a talent. Some people have it; some people don't.
And, since emergencies don't happen that often, we never know how
good our guy is until the time comes... at which point it is too
late to change horses.
THE CASE FOR
POOR JUDGMENT -
THE EGYPTIAN POSEIDON ADVENTURE
You never know how good
your leader is until they are tested. When it comes to the cruise industry, even if the training
is there, maybe the judgment isn't.
The Costa Concordia and the Titanic are worst-case scenarios, but
there have been other bad mistakes as well. In December 2010,
Marla and I were eye-witnesses to an appalling case of poor judgment
Egyptian Poseidon Adventure.
Marla and I were the
guest dance instructors on a cruise ship headed to
Egypt that nearly capsized. One woman was killed, 100
more passengers were injured, and the ship sustained a
million dollars in damages. Our near-disaster was clearly the Captain's
fault. Thanks to his supreme stupidity, the
Captain took our ship directly into the worst
Mediterranean storm in 100 years!!
This was a situation that leaves me baffled to this day. I
know full well that cruise ships avoid storms like the
plague. Out of 25 cruise trips I have taken so far, six of
those trips have been diverted to safer waters due to storms.
It is industry
policy to always sidestep storms whenever possible.
The Cayman Islands are the perfect example. They have a
bulls-eye on their back. These poor
islands are hit by a hurricane on average once every 2.3
years. In the mid-2000s, there was a bad stretch where poor
Cayman was hit by hurricanes 3 years in a row. Each year our
scheduled trip to Grand Cayman was canceled due to
hurricanes. Each time our itinerary was changed and we
docked instead at places on the map I didn't even know
existed - Costa Maya, Vera Cruz, Progresso.
I wasn't very impressed with these substitute ports, but I
didn't complain. I understood the rule - cruise ships avoid
storms for safety reasons.
Yet suddenly one night Marla and I found ourselves on a ship going head to head
with a terrible storm. As our ship tossed and rolled
in the giant waves, Marla and I distinctly wondered what
had ever happened to that "avoid storms" rule.
The Captain would later suggest the strength of the storm
had taken him by surprise. Oh, please. You have to be kidding. The
entire Eastern Mediterranean knew about that storm.
Heck, even I knew about the storm in advance.
Earlier that day Marla and I had taken a great trip to a
Roman fort on the island of Rhodes. As we stood atop a hill on
this island near the
south coast of Turkey, we smiled at our magnificent view of the
Mediterranean. We had an
outstanding travel guide. Thanks to some time he had spent
in Houston, he and I really hit it off. At the end of our
trip, our guide pointed at the darkening skies. He told me
one of the worst storms in a long time was about to hit this
part of the Mediterranean.
Then he pointed to an American
destroyer docked in the harbor. He said that ship had just
pulled in a couple hours ago to ride out the storm. Surely
my ship would do the same, yes? I shrugged.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Marla and I went back on board for lunch.
Suddenly out of the darkening skies the most amazing
lightning show I have ever seen erupted. Marla and I stared
bug-eyed as huge lightning bolts repeatedly struck the sea right before
our eyes. Now we stared at each other. This really was going to be
quite a storm!
After lunch, Marla and I went back into town to explore. It
rained heavily, but our umbrellas allowed us to visit
nevertheless. When we got back on board, the Captain made an
announcement that he had decided to race it to Egypt.
However, the Captain warned us it would be a bumpy ride.
would have to tough.
In a matter of hours, the ship began to pitch back and forth. The winds were whipping the ocean into a
frenzy. The height of the waves was unbelievable. This
was more than I had bargained for.
The Captain wasn't kidding about being tough.
As our ship rolled back and forth, the
ship would briefly lean at an acute angle. Huge waves would reach as
high as Deck 10. Marla and I gaped in amazement. We had
never seen anything like this before in our lives. The fury
of the ocean was very frightening.
Marla whispered the Captain wanted to be a hero and save our
excursions for us… and preserve the money the cruise ship would make
from our Egyptian excursions as well. I nodded. Nothing else made
For a moment, we went outside next to the pool to test the wind strength.
Dumb move. We were almost knocked down by the winds. Marla
thought the winds were much too strong. After we returned to our
cabin, she turned on the TV to the ship's own weather
monitor. The TV said the fierce winds outside were blowing
at speeds exceeding 80 miles per hour. She gasped. We
were in a hurricane!
A Tropical Storm is 39-73 mph. A Level One Hurricane is
listed as 74-95 mph. Earlier we had been amazed, but now we
were in shock. Our idiot Captain had taken his ship DIRECTLY
into a storm the equivalent of a Level One Hurricane!
Marla stayed glued to the ship's weather
station on TV throughout the night. Marla is a
survivor. She knew we were taking a huge chance and wanted
to be awake if something happened. Nevertheless, at some
point, we both managed to doze off.
In the middle of the night, Marla and I awoke with a
startle. Our bed was moving! We both sat up sharply in confusion as
our bed slid 8 feet across our cabin. It was 2 am. We had
no idea what was going on, but we knew that beds are not
supposed to slide across the floor. I had an idea what was
happening because I had seen a
video with similarities. So I stayed
glued to the bed.
Marla, however, got on her feet at the front of the bed.
Suddenly our bed shot back in the other direction. Marla was
hurtled in mid-air back to the bed. Marla sailed through the
air and landed a perfect swan dive into the pillows. If I
hadn't been gripping the bed with white knuckles, I would
The third slide was the worst. The other slides had been
gradual, but this one had force to it. The ship listed so
badly that every single item in our room that wasn't bolted
down was thrown violently to the floor. The computer went
crashing against the door. The TV went crashing to the
floor. Marla's makeup went crashing. Clothes came streaming
out of drawers. Everything was flying. Our bed was slammed
hard against the wall. At this point, Marla and I were
clinging to the bed for dear life. It felt like the room had
turned sideways. I actually wondered how I would fetch our
life vests if this continued. We couldn't even stand up.
Fortunately the next two rolls weren't as bad. The back and forth
listing of the ship stopped after five rolls. But it wasn't
over yet. Suddenly we heard a huge bang just outside our
door. We didn't know it at the time, but that was the sound
of the giant 60 foot Christmas tree falling in the nearby Atrium.
The tree had separated from the wires holding it in place
and came crashing down to the floor.
Poor Santa Claus. His life-size figure was
crushed under the tree. This would have been funny except
for one thing - a woman was killed when an object hit her
head. 105 passengers were injured. Many of
the crew literally fell out of their bunk beds.
Fear was rampant. People were sobbing in terror as
they strapped on their life vests. The passengers did
not know if they were safe. Everyone was asking the same question. Were we
in danger? Did we need to go to the lifeboats?
As it turned out, there was no damage to the structure of
the ship itself. However there was enormous cosmetic damage.
Beautiful chandeliers had come crashing
down. Practically every glass and plate in the restaurant
was smashed to pieces. Flying objects in the exercise room
shattered mirrors. Valuable pianos crashed through glass
windows. Broken pots were smashed on every deck with
lifeless plants and dirt spread all over the carpet.
The damage was one million dollars.
What happened? What went wrong? Unbeknownst to the Captain, the storm had
beaten our ship to Egypt. The waters in the port of
Alexandria were far too choppy to dock his ship. It would have
been like trying to hammer boards over a window in the
middle of a hurricane. The ship could not possibly be
steadied to attempt to dock… the ship could easily have been
damaged against the pier.
Now the Captain
discovered a worse problem. Thanks to the huge waves, the
harbor was littered with six other gigantic ships that were also unable to dock. In a sense,
each ship represented a floating iceberg. These
ships were not stationary. The ships took unpredictable
they tried to avoid each other. The Captain saw
that his clumsy ship was in great danger of colliding with
The Captain executed a sudden U-Turn. As the ship turned
broadside into the turbulent waves with its stabilizers
turned off, the ship suddenly began to list terribly. The ship
began to roll back and forth from side to side, hitting angles close to 30
degrees. This was a frightening process.
Fortunately, once he completed his turn, the ship
stabilized. His ship was now safely turned back out to sea.
That was the good news. Now came the bad news. Those five rolls had been enough to inflict tremendous
damage to the interior of the ship.
Now came even more bad
The Captain had killed a woman, hurt 105 passengers, ruined priceless valuables
and had nearly wrecked his ship in Alexandria. The
final blow came when we discovered the Captain had risked his ship
and our lives for nothing.
Even if our ship had
managed somehow to dock, it would not have
done any good. At that very moment, Egypt was in
'hunker mood' coping with
terrible sandstorms that lasted for 48 hours. The Arabs knew
it was insane to be outside. Too bad the Captain didn't have the
sense to realize this ahead of time.
Now we headed to Malta
We never came close to seeing Egypt.
Here is what Wikipedia had to say about the
On December 11, 2010 Brilliance of the Seas
left Rhodes, Greece on a 6-port cruise to Alexandria, Egypt and
other stops around the eastern Mediterranean and experienced
very high seas and hurricane force winds overnight.
During the night winds were noted by
passengers watching the ship's heading and statistics channel to
max out at around 82 miles per hour. At around 2:15 AM, it is
reported that in a cluster of ships rushing to enter the port of
Alexandria, a freighter turned in front of the Brilliance,
forcing the ship's captain, Erik Tengelsen, to slow her below
the 9 knots necessary to maintain her stabilizers' function.
Brilliance was thus at the mercy of 50 to 60
foot waves and started to heel port and starboard violently.
Passengers reported that they were thrown out of beds; furniture
and unsecured objects tossed and slid about their staterooms. A
grand piano smashed through a window. Windows and mirrors were
smashed, and the spa basins were damaged.
The ship's Christmas tree fell over in the
Centrum Lobby giving an eerie Poseidon Adventure
feel to the incident, beckoning back to the 1972 movie starring
Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters in which passengers of a
capsized ship were forced to climb up a toppled Christmas tree
to escape before she sunk completely.
A reported 105 passengers needed medical treatment for their
injuries, although that number continues to be disputed by both
passengers and Royal Caribbean International interests. The
heeling incident lasted several minutes, after which the Captain
acknowledged that it had been a "horrifying experience."
Captain Erik reported to news outlets that he
was taken by surprise at the force of the storm when, he said,
weather reports leaving Rhodes only forecast winds at 40 mph.
That claim however flies in the face of some reports by
passengers who said the captain warned them via the ship's
intercom system soon after leaving Greece to prepare for a bumpy
night with "very high seas" and winds as much as 60 mph.
It is for that reason that many passengers
felt the Captain and Royal Caribbean were partly responsible for
the horrifying heeling incident that passengers were subjected
to, since they knew well in advance what the potential for
morning, Royal Caribbean International announced that a $200 per-stateroom refund would be given.
This offer was received with bitterness by passengers who felt
their lives had been at risk. Later that
a vocal outrage in the Centrum Lobby, Royal
reconsidered and announced that on top of the $200, passengers
could also expect a full refund of each passenger's stateroom
is so accurate I assume it was written by an eyewitness
like myself. In fact, this write-up with its allusion to the
Poseidon Adventure is so similar to my own story I
can't help but wonder if the person who wrote it used some of my
Interestingly, Marla and
I turned out to be the only passengers on the ship who didn't get a
refund. They contended that as the dance teachers, we were
"crew" and not entitled to any refund. Who said life was fair?
I would like to add three
is for that reason that many passengers felt the Captain and Royal
Caribbean were partly responsible..."
Partly responsible? How ridiculous.
The Captain and RCCL were completely responsible. Or did they
think Santa contributed to the problem?
2) The Wikipedia writeup
did not mention the death of
Barbara Davey. The deceased passenger's husband, John
Davey, stated to the Scottish and U.K. media that "Barbara was
tossed around like a ragdoll and was seriously hurt" during the
violent storm which rocked the Brilliance of the Seas as the cruise
ship approached Alexandria, Egypt. The woman had either been
struck or she had hit her head on something. Three days later Ms. Davey lapsed
into a coma and subsequently died. Doctors apparently diagnosed a
"brain hemorrhage" as the cause of death.
3) It has since crossed my mind that the Captain did the right
thing in turning the boat around. Massive cruise ships don't
exactly stop on a dime. In these rough waters and with so
many ships taking random paths through the harbor, it would
have been tough to weave through the unpredictable obstacle course.
However, one question was never been answered
to my satisfaction. Why did the Captain take us directly
into such a dangerous storm in the first place?
I have only been able to come up with one answer.
Money, the root of all evil, is the only
explanation that has ever made any sense to me. The ship
stood to make thousands of dollars in excursion fees during our
two-day stay in Egypt.
I assume our Captain
thought he had the smarts to weather the storm… just like
the Captain of the Titanic thought he could spot icebergs soon
enough to dodge them.
Too bad the Captain of the Titanic didn't have the sense to slow
down. Too bad the Captain of the Brilliance didn't have the sense to stay put
When you are dealing with other
people's lives, aren't you supposed to err on the side of
caution? Theoretically yes, but Greed makes people
take stupid chances.
Judgment. Some people
have it. Some people don't. And the problem is, it is
very difficult to predict in advance who has it and who doesn't.
Oftentimes you will
never know how talented your leader is until the crisis hits.
Now it is time to review
Captain Smith's judgment on the most famous Maritime disaster of all.
Let's put the Titanic story under a microscope.
before the incident... and Santa.
This is a
picture of the fallen Christmas tree.
That's my computer down there on the floor.
I just finished picking up the TV.
wasn't glued down ended up on the floor.
Do you see the
passenger with the life vest on? This person came to the Front
Desk to ask what had just happened. There were a lot of people scared
out of their wits.
broken potted plants.
What a mess.
This is the Lobby.
Santa is down
under there somewhere.
Marla is not trying to strike a glamour pose - she
hurt her neck when she was hurtled forward.
In this picture,
Marla has finally found her glasses after they were lost during the
Yes, that is
poor Santa under the fallen tree.
The Sinking of the Titanic
"Iceberg, Right Ahead!!"
At 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, those
words rung out on the bridge of the Titanic. Reacting
Murdoch ordered an abrupt turn to port and full speed
astern to reverse the engines driving the outer
Thanks to the sharp turn, the
ship's starboard side
clearly missed the visible part of the
iceberg. However, beneath the water, the massive
iceberg was much wider.
The underside of the Titanic brushed
against the deadly edges of
the iceberg. This buckled
the hull in several places and popped
out rivets below the waterline. The
glancing blow created a
total of six leaks in the first five watertight
compartments. Murdoch then ordered hard right rudder, which
swung Titanic's stern away from the iceberg.
The Titanic could sustain damage to four
compartments, but the fifth
compartment was breached for 10-15 feet.
This was the killer blow. The
watertight doors were shut, but this only
postponed the inevitable sinking.
At 2:20 am, the
Titanic would permanently disappear beneath the freezing
waters of the Northern Atlantic.
The Senseless Loss of Life
Amidst the hype surrounding
the launch of this new super ship, the phrase rang out:
"The Titanic is unsinkable!
Even God Himself couldn't sink this ship!!"
was the largest passenger steamship
at the time. Thanks to improvements in
engineering design, the ship was
said to be unsinkable.
Sadly the iceberg proved
that assumption incorrect. The shock of
hearing the invincible Titanic had sunk was profound.
People could not comprehend the enormity of
The enormity of the surprise
the Titanic became a symbol of failure when failure
is impossible. The disaster became part of our
language, today one hundred years later, every time something goes
wrong, we refer to it as a "Titanic Disaster".
If a sports team loses a game when it is heavily
favored, we call it a
The sinking of the Titanic was
a double tragedy. As if the loss of the ship
wasn't enough, there was a second tragedy waiting to
When it became apparent the
Titanic was in serious trouble,
the passengers rushed to the
lifeboats. At the time, they had no idea there
weren't enough lifeboats on board. Nor were
any of the officers revealing the truth. They
didn't want a riot on their hands.
At a point when about half the
lifeboats were lowered, the passengers began to
count the remaining lifeboats. They began to
wonder how they were going to fit all those
passengers into what was left.
They stared at the
remaining lifeboats in disbelief and growing horror. It slowly
began to dawn on them that there weren't enough
lifeboats to save everyone. Something was
wrong here. Very wrong.
Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats. These lifeboats had
a total capacity of 1,178 persons.
There were 2,223 people on
board. This meant
1,045 people were automatically
doomed to die.
As this grim reality took hold, it created a serious
unfolding drama. Some passengers accepted
their fate with grace and nobility. Other
passengers did whatever they could to get on the
lifeboats. Several men resorted to covering
their heads with women's shawls.
Adding to the tragedy, the death toll turned out to be much worse
than it should have been. 1,045 people were
doomed to die, but due to the ridiculous decision to
release several boats only half-full, 1,517
Due to incompetence on the part of the
ship's staff in dealing
with the lifeboat situation, 472 more lives were
lost than necessary.
This needless sacrifice
of life absolutely shocked the world. It was
one thing to be told this ship couldn't sink under
any circumstances, but to discover there weren't enough
lifeboats as well created a world-wide outrage.
The utter senselessness of the
shortage has continued to mystify people ever since. Over the years, people have asked
"Why weren't there enough lifeboats?"
There were two reasons for the
shortage. First of all,
the Titanic wasn't supposed to sink. It was
invulnerable so why bother carrying extra
lifeboats? Thanks to a short-sighted decision
on the part of J. Bruce Ismay, president of the
White Star line, the extra lifeboats proposed by
Thomas Andrews, the designer, were scrimped to make
more room for luxury cabins and beautiful sightlines
of the ocean.
No one stood up to Ismay.
They shrugged their shoulders and figured it didn't
make much difference anyway. People were so certain of the
Titanic's majestic strength, no one seemed to
question the appalling lack of lifeboats.
Like some high-wire acts, the Titanic was allowed to
make its maiden voyage lacking an appropriate safety
Oddly enough, this situation
was "legal" at the time. British shipping
officials permitted this situation even though deep
down they knew quite well there was no such thing as
an unsinkable ship.
Shipping Industry insiders
understood that the hype wasn't true. Yes,
under certain circumstances, the Titanic could sink.
For example, if it was hit by a torpedo in just the
right place, the ship could sink.
So this was the kind of threat the ship was designed to
deal with. By creating 16 separate
compartments, theoretically they could seal off the
damaged by a torpedo and still stay afloat. Or in a
worst case scenario, the ship would take its
sweet time sinking. It would be days before
the Titanic finally went under.
In this case, there would be
plenty of time for another ship to come to the
Titanic's rescue. 20 lifeboats would be more
than sufficient to ferry the passengers back and
forth to the rescue ship.
Now you understand the
thinking behind the limited number of lifeboats.
In the unlikely event of an accident, the Titanic
was supposed to sink slowly... Maybe what they
should have said would have been "Even God himself
couldn't sink this ship, but even if He did, it
wouldn't sink very fast!"
For some reason, no one ever
visualized a scenario where all five forward
compartments were breeched. It was beyond the
imagination of the designers. Hence the
decision was made to limit the number of lifeboats
as unnecessary despite the objections of Thomas
Andrews. What a shame that no one listened to
him. His sad fate reminds me of Cassandra, the
seeress who begged the Trojans not to draw the
Trojan Horse behind their walls.
Unfortunately, the tragic collision with the
iceberg made it clear
that this decision was absurd and dangerous.
After the sinking,
no ship was ever again
allowed to set sail unless there were enough
lifeboats for everyone on the ship.
However, it wasn't just the
immensity of the lifeboat situation or the strange
one-in-a-million nature of the accident that took
down the ship. There were all sorts of
curious circumstances surrounding
the tragedy that left people hungry for more
details. For example, why couldn't the Titanic
have simply sailed around the iceberg? When
they learned the ship was going too fast, people
felt puzzled. When they further learned they
were going fast at night without any kind of light
thanks to a new moon, they were even more perplexed.
When it finally revealed the
Titanic had received over 20 different warnings of
ice from different ships about a gigantic ice field
and monster icebergs, people were incredulous.
Weren't the officers of the Titanic professionals?
If so, why didn't they have the sense to slow down?
As these details and other curious facts emerged,
the mystery deepened. Nothing made any sense
As it stands, the individual
stories are so poignant and the cosmic themes
surrounding the disaster are so profound that even
100 years people still find their
imaginations riveted. No one can read the
story of the Titanic without a sense of incredulity.
It wasn't supposed to
happen... but it did.
Like the Biblical fall of
Goliath and the Mythological fall of Achilles, the
Titanic instantly became an enduring symbol for the
value of caution and common sense. The Titanic became a grim
reminder to all of humanity to never take anything
for granted again.
Let's play a game.
Study the picture on the right carefully.
See if you can spot the
Based on a History
Channel documentary I watched, in the dark conditions on the fateful
night, the only way to spot
an iceberg would have been to notice the absence of stars on the horizon.
On the night of Sunday,
April 14, 1912, the temperature had dropped to near freezing and the
ocean was completely calm. There was no moon and the sky was clear.
It was freezing cold in
Titanic’s crow’s nest. The beautiful sunset was a distant memory as
Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee were nearing the end of their
watch. It was hard to see the horizon, or much of anything else, on
this moonless, windless Sunday night. The seas were completely calm,
eliminating any chance to see water breaking at the base of any
icebergs. Without binoculars, the lookouts had to rely on
their own unaided eyesight.
Suddenly, Fleet thought he saw "a black mass". He knew it had
to be an iceberg. He immediately rang the bell three times (warning
of ice straight ahead) and telephoned the bridge.
The men on the Titanic
knew full well there was ice out there somewhere. Over the
past four days, Captain
Smith had received 21 radio warnings from
ships that there was a dangerous ice field awaiting the Titanic.
Each of these ships had
passed through the area in daylight. The captains of these
ships were so alarmed they felt a need to warn all ships to be on
the lookout. Indeed the day of the accident, Smith had
received no less than 5 direct warnings.
So what did Smith do?
Did he stop the ship as night approached? No. Did he at
least slow the ship down? No.
What Smith did do was post two men at the front of the ship.
Fleet later reported being frantic with worry. As the men peered
into the darkness, they understood clearly the fate of the ship
depended on them. But they couldn't see!!
report that in these
dark conditions a ship can
come as close as a quarter of a mile - 440 yards - before
spotting an iceberg. 440 yards is about 4 city blocks.
Indeed, the Titanic lookouts actually
did better than that… later evidence suggests the lookouts
spotted the iceberg at a distance of 500 yards away.
The Titanic was sailing
at 22 knots that night, a pretty fast clip.
If the men were to spot an iceberg at 440
yards away, at the speed they were moving (22 knots), the
ship never had a chance. There was not enough time to avoid the obstacle.
At 22 knots, the
giant ship would have needed 850 yards
to stop. It is one thing to have a slim margin for error,
but by these calculations show it was impossible to avoid the
Given the ice conditions
that Smith was well aware of and given the darkness which eliminated
any realistic chance of seeing an iceberg from a distance, it was
foolhardy to be moving so fast.
The math says the
Titanic was doomed.
Since the Titanic's path was aimed
directly at an iceberg, there is no conceivable way to have avoided
You would think that an
experienced Captain would understand these numbers.
The smart thing would
have been to stop and wait till morning like other ships did.
But short of doing that, at least slow down.
But inexplicably Captain
Smith failed to
slow down. Some say Smith was following orders. Others
would say Smith should have had the sense to say no based on 21
warnings. Why would anyone disregard 21 separate warnings of
therefore easy to conclude that the Titanic sank due to Captain Smith's poor
No one has ever
successfully explained "why" the Titanic was going so fast. It
didn't make any sense. There was little to gain from it.
Rumor has it that the Titanic was going fast
because Captain Edward Smith was pressured to do so by J Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star line.
Ismay was on board to accompany the maiden voyage. It is
said that Ismay wanted to set the world record by finishing
the voyage in the fastest time possible.
argument doesn't make sense because the Titanic had been
built for luxury, not speed. The Cunard Mauretania was
widely understood to be a faster ship. Therefore the Titanic was
not even capable of setting a world record.
So why bother going so fast, particularly after being warned
21 times in the past four days by other ships about iceberg sightings?
If setting any sort of a record is unattainable, then what could
possibly be the
reason to push ahead with such determination?
ship, the Californian, was anchored nearby. It was a mere 10
to 20 miles away from the site of
Titanic's fateful brush with the iceberg. Why was the ship
there? As nightfall approached, the captain of the Californian
had taken one look at the ice conditions and refused to continue.
He said there was no sense in trying to navigate this kind of danger
Although we may never
fully understand what Smith or Ismay were thinking, no one can deny
the ship was going too fast on the night of the collision. One
Captain stopped rather than risk his ship; another maintained a
In certain situations,
some people have judgment; some don't.
In the hearings after
the tragedy, the question of whether Ismay had pressured Smith to go
faster was asked to both passengers and
the officers who survived.
The officers said
nothing to incriminate Ismay. However, it was noted that their
jobs were at risk here, so perhaps the cat got their tongue.
Several of the
well-heeled passengers - Jack Thayer, Mrs. Ryerson - claimed that
Ismay gave them the impression that the Titanic was going to set
some sort of speed record, but in the end, no one gave any direct
testimony to implicate Ismay. So the mystery of why Captain
Smith was going too fast may just have to remain a mystery.
WHY THE TITANIC
IS THE MOST FAMOUS DISASTER
So now it is time to
answer my burning question. Why do I think the Titanic is the most
famous disaster of all time?
Before we get
started, I have an admission to make. I have no evidence to
prove that the Titanic really is the most famous disaster.
Another disaster, 9-11 for example, would
nose out the Titanic because it is more recent.
However, I think we can assume the Titanic story is definitely in the running...
especially if the whole world votes and not just the USA. The
British vote would favor the Titanic.
After reviewing the story from as many directions as I possibly
could, I will offer my theories why I think the Titanic is the most
I suppose if we limit our vote to the 20th
Century, that would definitely improve the chances for the Titanic!
IS BY FAR THE SEXIEST STORY
It is very rare to hear
a story where lots of rich people die at the same time. Sure,
celebrities die in car crashes and plane crashes, but usually just
one or two.
The Titanic was not just a luxury
liner, it was the most stunning luxury ship ever built.
Furthermore it was on its maiden voyage. As such, it was the
Celebrity Event of the day. A ticket on the Titanic was a
status symbol of unparalleled importance.
The first voyage of the
Titanic was to place to be seen. Every newspaper in London and
New York had been talking about it for months. The hype was
Consequently some of the most famous people of the
early Twentieth Century were on board. As the ship headed to
New York, the maiden voyage was the talk of the town. It was
the perfect combination of the most incredible ship ever built and
the Best of the Best. The Titanic was a veritable floating "Who's
Suddenly, to everyone's
astonishment, they were shocked to learn many rich and famous people on board went to their
deaths. John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Isador and Ida
Strauss, Charles Hays, and Major Archibald Butt were just some of
celebrities who went to their death that night. There were
many other notables as well.
Of all the other
disasters we have covered, not one single story can even begin to match
the "Star Power" of this tale.
You would have to have a
bomb or a deadly fire take out half the people at the Oscars to
parallel this strange combination of terrible horror and extreme
HAS BECOME IMMORTAL
As I reviewed the story
of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, I could not help but think this
tragedy could be just as interesting as the Titanic.
How is it possible for a
killer Level 4 hurricane to hit a city without warning?
It staggers the imagination. When the storm left Cuba, it was
a mere tropical storm predicted to curve well to the east. Instead
it made a beeline for Galveston and doubled in strength. The story of how a hurricane
could sneak up on a metropolitan city fascinates me.
Thanks to the sneak
attack, only a limited number of people were able to evacuate at the
last minute. The rest were trapped on an island with virtually
no natural protection. Practically every man-made
structure was blown down. It was every man for himself. There must
many amazing stories of life and death struggles.
And yet there is not a
single full-length movie dedicated to this heart-stopping story that
I know of. There have been a few documentaries, but none
famous enough that
I have ever seen it.
On the other hand, a
Wikipedia site listed 20... yes, 20... full length movies about
Titanic. And that's not all. There are 14 TV shows and
mini-series devoted to the Titanic. Is it my imagination or is
it true that wherever we turn, there is some sort of Titanic
Over the years, the
story of the Titanic has enjoyed a remarkable run of near-constant publicity.
For example, just when the Titanic was starting to fade from the
public eye after World War II, a well-received movie starring Barbara Stanwyck was released in 1952.
In 1955, a book about
the Titanic titled A Night to Remember was released.
Written by Walter Lord, this book became a huge best-seller.
Lord had gone to the trouble of interviewing as many survivors of
the disaster as he possibly could. In much the same way that
Cornelius Ryan wrote his best seller The Longest Day about
D-Day, Lord was able to weave all the first-hand accounts into a
well-written non-fiction retelling of the disaster.
Since the Titanic story
already carried the same level of drama you would normally see
in a well-written movie script, Lord didn't
have to embellish a single thing. His book was so compelling that it
read like an incredible adventure story with the added feature that it was all true.
A movie version based on
the book came out in 1958. It worked the same magic. The
movie simply stuck to what happened that night without any
tales added. Even
though the movie didn't bother with fictionalized story lines, it
still carried just as much drama as any Hollywood version.
Thanks to the book and the movie, the
world's love affair with the Titanic story was rekindled.
However, time makes us
forget. Over the years, the Titanic faded from
sight again. Pop culture had forgotten about the Titanic. Now
we had Disco, Top Gun, Star Wars and Michael Jackson to distract us.
Suddenly out of nowhere,
the story came rushing back to the headlines in 1985 when
Ballard announced he had discovered the Titanic's resting place on
the bottom of the ocean. Even better, he had pictures to prove
This was a big deal. Numerous documentaries and newspaper
articles soon followed. The Titanic was back in action.
discovery, subsequent missions to the deep have brought back all
kinds of artifacts and new details. Renewed interest in the Titanic
hooked a complete new generation of fans in a big way.
All it took was James
Cameron's Titanic and Celine Dion's "My
Heart Will Go On" to virtually ensure the Titanic
story will be remembered well into the 21st Century.
The story of the doomed
romance of Jack and Rose was so powerful that many people are still
under the impression that they were actual passengers on board the
ship. In some ways, they were. Through their eyes, we
learned what the people on the Titanic had to endure. Those
images are so powerful, how can we ever forget?
I suppose 9-11 would win
a battle of which "Disaster" is most famous. After all, 9-11 is more
recent and carries a major political component. However, as for the
20th Century, the Titanic disaster probably rules.
Some disasters don't
have survivors. As a result, the story has trouble finding a
In the case of the Titanic,
the newspapers were all over this story. From the moment the
ship landed, reporters pulled every person aside and asked them to
tell the world what happened.
testimony of the survivors brought every dimension of this night
of terror to light.
Consequently, we know in
sharp detail about the stories of so many people on board the ship
that over time they have become celebrities in their own right.
The more we know about
these people, the more we begin to "identify" with them. No
matter who you are, there is bound to be one character on that ship
that reminds you of yourself.
"Gee, that could have
were rich people. There were poor people.
There were average people who quietly went about their business.
There were members of
the crew who had tales of their own to tell. In other words, there
was someone aboard that fateful night for
everyone to relate to.
storyline reads like classic soap opera - luxurious settings, boldly
drawn characters, moral dilemmas, class conflicts. Cameron knew just
what he was doing when he hooked us with a doomed romance that
defied class lines.
The story worked like a
charm because at its heart the Titanic story is a floating "Upstairs
Downstairs" and "Rich Man Poor Man" rolled into one. Pitting a
gritty poor kid against rich snobs, Cameron was able to capitalize
on the tragedy that hangs over the story like a dark cloud.
Like any good soap opera, we all find
it easy to identify with the plight of the various people.
We study the cowards and ask if we could have done better. We
read about the decisions of the Captain and try to understand what
he could have been thinking. We
read about the heroes and wonder if we could have had that kind of
Identification is effortless. We know their names. We
know their faces. We know their stories. We could just
as easily have been one of them. It is easy to care about
these people as if they are still alive.
The story of the Titanic disaster
is so irresistible we find ourselves
participating in their lives before we even realize it.
A SYMBOL FOR
James Cameron, director
of Titanic, was quoted as saying, "The Titanic is this great sort of
metaphorical novel that reads like fiction, but actually happened. You can go and
visit the wreck and see this monument to human folly."
A monument to human
folly, indeed. I agree with Cameron. The Titanic has
become a modern symbol for man's foolishness.
The Greeks were
unusually obsessed with man's condition. Through their
mythologies and their Greek tragedies, their playwrights and
philosophers tried very hard to explore man's weakness and man's
One of my very favorite
Greek myths was Icarus, the birdman who plunged to his death when he
flew too close to the sun.
As you recall, Icarus
and his father Daedalus were imprisoned high in a tower on the
island of Crete by the evil king Minos.
Daedalus, a talented
Athenian craftsman, had been hired to build the Labyrinth for King
Minos of Crete, near his palace at Knossos, to imprison the
Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster born of his wife and the
When Daedalus discovered
the true use of his Labyrinth, he was horrified. Young men and
women were being fed to the monster. Daedalus gave Ariadne,
daughter of Minos, a ball of string to help Theseus find his way
through the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.
imprisoned Daedalus in revenge.
Daedalus was far to
clever to stay imprisoned for long. He began to collect the
feathers of the birds who roosted in the tower. Daedalus
fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and
his son Icarus.
As the day of the escape
drew near, Icarus could barely contain his excitement. Icarus
listened with only half an ear as his father warned him not to fly
too close to the sun nor too close to the sea. The winds of
the sea and the heat of sun were deadly threats.
Tentative at first,
Icarus was amazed to realize he could really fly. Not only could he
fly, it was easy! His father's invention was brilliant!
Now his confidence began
to grow. Icarus exulted in the joy of soaring through the
heavens so effortlessly. Overcome by the giddiness that flying
lent him, Icarus soared through the sky with increasing passion.
forgot his father's warning - do not fly too close to the sun!
As Icarus soared higher and higher, he came too close to the sun.
The searing heat quickly melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his
wings but something was wrong. He realized that he had no
feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms.
Now Icarus fell to his
death into the sea below.
There is a direct
comparison to the fate of Icarus and the fate of the Titanic.
For reasons we may never understand, Captain Edward Smith chose to
ignore repeated warnings about the presence of dangerous ice fields
This amazing chart can
be found at
Titanic Ice Warnings. The author has shown with
painstaking thoroughness that Captain Smith was warned about the ice
on the same day the ship would collide.
steamers report bergs, growlers, and field ice..."
icebergs and large quantities of field ice..."
passed two large icebergs."
bergs 5 miles to southward of us."
heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs..."
Do you feel a growing
astonishment as you read this list? A testament to human
people still think the Titanic's collision with an iceberg was a
random event, a one-in-a-million case of bad luck.
thinking is much different. Given what we know know, the
collision was much more likely than most people realize.
Please note that each one of those warnings in the chart above lists
multiple icebergs in different locations. One warning listed
as many as three.
Furthermore each location cited was miles apart from the others.
In other words, there must have been icebergs scattered all over the
it is fair to conclude that there since there were reports of at
least a dozen different icebergs in the area lying ahead of the
Titanic,, there were probably many more icebergs!
am not the only one to come that conclusion. This picture
indicates that the Titanic was headed towards an actual wall of ice.
Smith was warned repeatedly. One of the warnings came from the
Amerika. The Amerika had spotted two large
41.27 N, 50.08 W.
location was about 25 miles south of the iceberg the Titanic hit.
Did Smith simply not comprehend he was sailing directly into danger?
This is yet another piece of evidence that shows Captain Smith
deliberately sailed his ship into area strewn with not one, not two,
not three, but dozens of icebergs!
not forget that this wall of ice was so intimidating that on the
same night another ship, the Californian,
had come to a complete stop.
Indeed, one of the great
ironies of the night was that the Californian sat an anchor
just 15 miles away from the site where Titanic's passengers where
engaged in their heart-wrenching struggle to survive.
Californian's inability to decipher the meaning of the repeated
distress flares sent up by the Titanic is a remains a source of
great irritation to all to Titanic buffs to this day. But
that's another story.
The point to concentrate
on here is to ask why was the Californian was nearby in the
Because Stanley Lord,
Captain of the Californian, had taken one look at the ice
field and refused to sail directly into danger without the benefit
As nightfall approached,
Captain Lord decided there was no sense in trying to navigate this kind of danger
Here is what
steering a course of due west, the Californian
encountered a large ice field at
North and 49° 08' West.
In the evening twilight
Captain Lord spotted the ice
just in time. He ordered
the helm hard right and the engines full astern. Her
head swung rapidly to the right but it was too late; she
actually entered the loose margins of the ice field.
Shaken after the near miss,
Lord decided to stop the ship and wait until
morning to proceed further.
going down from the bridge, Lord
thought he saw a ship's light away to the eastward but
could not be sure it was not just a rising star.
Lord carried on down to
the engineers' cabins and met with the chief whom he
told about his plans for stopping.
were talking, they saw a ship's lights approaching. Lord
went to the wireless room to find out if Evans knew of
any ships in the area. Evans
informed Captain Lord that he
did: “only the Titanic.”
instructed Evans to call and
inform the Titanic that the
Californian was stopped and surrounded by ice.
Evans proceeded to wire the Titanic. Operator
Phillips on the Titanic was distracted when the message
from the Californian came in. Phillips was
unable to hear a separate, prior message he had been in
the process of receiving from Cape Race, and he rebuked
Evans with: "Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working
Ten minutes later the Titanic hit an iceberg.
That ice wall that
stopped Captain Lord and the Californian in its tracks must have been ominous
indeed. This chart indicates the Titanic did not even make it
into the heart of the ice field. Instead, the chart suggests
the Titanic likely hit one of the first icebergs in the wall.
The irony becomes even
more intense when one remembers the iceberg warning from the
Amerika earlier in the day was sent from practically this same
How absolutely pathetic.
This disregard for safety cannot be explained in any sensible way.
One can only assume that Captain Smith of the Titanic put too much
faith in the ability of his spotters to detect looming danger.
If the Titanic were
rewritten as a novel, it could be titled "Tale of Two Captains".
One Captain showed
judgment and caution.
The other Captain said
"Damn the tuxedos! Full Speed Ahead!"
A testament to human
Captain Smith did not
ignore the warnings completely. During the final day Smith did
order a change of course to a route 10 miles to the south and he did
But Smith's refusal to
slow down clearly shows that he didn't seem to take the warnings
Greek word Hubris is often attached to the Titanic
extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris indicates a loss of
contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence
or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a
position of power.
The word was also used
to describe actions of those who challenged the Gods or their laws,
especially in Greek Tragedy, resulting in the protagonist's fall
Hubris was also considered the greatest crime of ancient
Greek society. The Gods would punish the perpetrator. It often
resulted in fatal retribution.
In Greek Tragedy, "ruin,
folly, delusion" described the action performed by the hero or
heroine, usually because of his or her hubris, or great pride, that
leads to his or her death or downfall.
Examples of Hubris
in Ancient Greek included the mutilation of a corpse or
the humiliation of a defeated foe.
As we recall,
the powerful warrior
Achilles angered not just the Trojans, but also the Greek Gods when
he dragged the naked body of his defeated foe Hector before the
walls of Troy.
invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel. The death of
Achilles, as predicted by Hector with his dying breath, was brought
about by Paris with an arrow to the heel.
Although this was a one
in a million shot, apparently the god Apollo guided Paris' arrow.
The Greeks were in awe
that someone as invincible as Achilles was mortal after all.
When you place the story of the invincible Achilles against the
unsinkable Titanic, the irony is unmistakable.
The Titanic, of course,
was guilty of "hubris" in the first degree. Not only did they
name their ship after a mighty Greek God, they had the nerve to
ship was so well-built that "even God couldn't sink it".
And yet the
Titanic was brought down by a bizarre glancing blow to the side of
the ship. It was a one in a million shot.
In fact, the
newspapers described the iceberg as magically finding the Titanic's "Achilles
Heel". You almost wonder if Apollo was involved.
Indeed, the fate of the
Titanic reads like retribution for defying the Gods. The only possible reason
to be careless in the face of an obvious threat like a field
of icebergs is to assume you are invulnerable. And look what
happens when you assume you are invulnerable.
After the Titanic sank,
every human being on Earth took heed. To a world hungry for
any sign of the existence of God, this bizarre tragedy had all the
earmarks of Divine Intervention in the affairs of Man.
Every disaster carries a
lesson, but in this case, people paid more attention because to many
it seemed like a supernatural message.
If the most powerful structure Man had ever built could be
destroyed this easily on its maiden voyage, it was easy to
imagine God was trying to tell us something.
Therefore, as 1,500
agonized souls went to their death in the icy waters of Atlantic on
that fateful night, the Titanic assumed the mantle of modern
The Titanic has become
our timeless reminder to show respect and to never to take anything
Titanic would serve as a cautionary warning to us all to stay
humble. Beware of Hubris.
What a shame Captain
Schettino had to learn this lesson the hard way.