Titanic sunk by steering mistake, author says

LONDON Wed Sep 22, 2010 11:50am EDT

The RMS Titanic in what is thought to be the last known image of the ship as she sets sail from Queenstown for New York. REUTERS/Christie's

The RMS Titanic in what is thought to be the last known image of the ship as she sets sail from Queenstown for New York.

Credit: Reuters/Christie's

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LONDON (Reuters) - The Titanic hit an iceberg in 1912 because of a basic steering error, and only sank as fast as it did because an official persuaded the captain to continue sailing, an author said in an interview published on Wednesday.

Louise Patten, a writer and granddaughter of Titanic second officer Charles Lightoller, said the truth about what happened nearly 100 years ago had been hidden for fear of tarnishing the reputation of her grandfather, who later became a war hero.

Lightoller, the most senior officer to have survived the disaster, covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried it would bankrupt the ill-fated liner's owners and put his colleagues out of a job.

"They could easily have avoided the iceberg if it wasn't for the blunder," Patten told the Daily Telegraph.

"Instead of steering Titanic safely round to the left of the iceberg, once it had been spotted dead ahead, the steersman, Robert Hitchins, had panicked and turned it the wrong way."

Patten, who made the revelations to coincide with the publication of her new novel "Good as Gold" into which her account of events are woven, said that the conversion from sail ships to steam meant there were two different steering systems.

Crucially, one system meant turning the wheel one way and the other in completely the opposite direction.

Once the mistake had been made, Patten added, "they only had four minutes to change course and by the time (first officer William) Murdoch spotted Hitchins' mistake and then tried to rectify it, it was too late."

Patten's grandfather was not on watch at the time of the collision, but he was present at a final meeting of the ship's officers before the Titanic went down.

There he heard not only about the fatal mistake but also the fact that J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic's owner the White Star Line persuaded the captain to continue sailing, sinking the ship hours faster than would otherwise have happened.

"If Titanic had stood still, she would have survived at least until the rescue ship came and no one need have died," Patten said.

The RMS Titanic was the world's biggest passenger liner when it left Southampton, England, for New York on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Four days into the trip, the ship hit an iceberg and sank, taking more than 1,500 passengers with it.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Comments (3)
CaptGeorge wrote:
As a Captain, I find this account to be very suspect. It is third hand and full of holes. Starting with wheels existed on sailing ships long before steam so the explanation does not fly. The crew would be very clear on the execution of the orders, and yes in 1912 they were reverse from today, but it was standard for teh time, so helmsmen knew fully how to act. This is an old wives tale about the sinking from a new source. Funny it was first brought up because the movie depicted the response to the order “hard starboard” correctly ie turn port.

Sep 22, 2010 4:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
old_salt wrote:
I find that the analysis of the ships steering design as inadequate for a ship of its size to be more credible. Plus other reports indicate that the bridge telegraphed the engines to hard astern, a move likely to produce much cavitation and turbulence around the undersized rudder which would further reduce its effectiveness. Finally, if they had simply steered without changing the engine commands they might have missed the iceberg. Hitting the iceberg head on would have probably saved the ship also as there would have been fewer flooded compartments. However, all of this armchair quarterbacking is irrelevant as the crew did what they thought they should do, even if it was an error. The real screw up was the captains for putting on so much speed in a berg infested part of the ocean and maintaining it in periods of poor visibility in a vain attempt to set a speed record. Speed kills, today as way back then.

Sep 22, 2010 8:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
zrdan wrote:
The ONLY lie told is the one aimed at selling books!!

“Captain Smith, alerted by the jolt of the impact, arrived on the bridge and ordered a full stop. Shortly after midnight on 15 April, following an inspection by the ship’s officers and Thomas Andrews, the lifeboats were ordered to be readied and a distress call was sent out.”

…you don’t keep steaming when you are launching lifeboats and need ships to find your position.

‎…another interesting fact. The first lifeboat was launched at 00:40, a little less than an hour after impact. You really think they kept sailing while launching lifeboats? This woman is trying to sell books by pimping her grandfather’s name. I hope he comes back and haunts her for the rest of her life.

Sep 23, 2010 9:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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