Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"The Mystery Never Dies "

The Titanic
April 14-15th 1912
97 years ago
The Secret of How the Titanic Sank
New evidence has experts rethinking how the luxury passenger liner sank
When Roger Long, a naval architect hired to accompany the expedition, began analyzing the edges of the hull pieces, he came to a surprising conclusion. It was impossible, he believed, for the ship to have broken up the way experts for two decades believed it did, with the stern rising up to a 45-degree angle before the ship's hull split. "There are a lot of very contradictory things you can see in the pieces," he says. "But the only scenario I could come up with to explain all of the contradictions was that the ship broke at a very shallow angle." Close examination of the pieces showed that they had been interrupted in the middle of tearing apart—a sign, Long says, that the ship was still at a low-enough angle (he estimates only 11 degrees) that its stern could regain buoyancy as it began to crack. If the back of the ship had been raised out of the water at a 45-degree angle, as depicted in Cameron's movie, once the stern tore off, nothing would have stopped it, and the hull pieces would have torn in two.
Why does it matter exactly how the ship broke in two? For Titanic's passengers, it may have been the difference between life and death. "In the movie, the stern rises up and [then] sinks," says Chatterton. "It's this protracted, dramatic experience." But in Long's scenario, the ship may have tilted over only slightly as the bow filled with water, giving those on board a false sense of security. "If you're standing on the deck with 10 degrees of incline, and they're saying 'Quick, everyone into the lifeboats,' you're thinking, 'You know, things aren't looking so bad here, maybe I can just stay in the bar,' " says Chatterton. "The passengers and many of the crew didn't understand the seriousness of the situation they were in." Of course, since the Titanic had enough lifeboats for only half its passengers, many people were never going to make it off the ship alive. When the bow filled with enough water, Long says, the ship split in two and sank in a matter of minutes.

Interestingly, much of the survivor testimony seems to confirm this sequence of events. Charlie Joughin, Titanic's chief baker, said that he had been standing near the stern when the ship went under, but he reported none of the signs of a high-angle break. No suction, no big splash, and no roller-coaster ride to the surface. He said he swam away from the ship without even getting his hair wet. Unlike in the Cameron film, there was no huge wave reported from any of the lifeboats when the stern went under.

One survivor reported slipping into the water, turning around, and discovering the ship had disappeared.

"He was in the water 50 feet from the ship, he heard a 'shloop,' and it was gone," says Long.

"That's not what a person would remember if 25,000 tons of steel fell nearby."
Eyewitnesses. While some survivors in the lifeboats did remember seeing the ship's stern rising high in the air, Long says that might have been an optical illusion. At an 11-degree angle, the ship's propellers would have been raised out of the water, making the ship, already nearly 20 stories tall, appear even taller and making its angle in the water appear even steeper. Technical advisers to the movie Titanicsay Cameron, who did not respond to a request for comment, may have been aware of this but exaggerated the angle at which the ship sank for effect.
Though experts still quibble about the exact nature of how the ship broke up, a consensus does seem to be forming around how Titanic sank. "We all agree that the ship did sink at a shallow angle," says Garzke, head of the naval architects' forensics panel. Historians believe Harland & Wolff was probably aware of this at the time, but when the official inquiries absolved the shipbuilder of any liability in the matter, the company didn't protest.
Some conspiracy theorists believe that the company's silence was a sign of a coverup, and that the post-disaster retrofitting of Titanic's sister ships proves Harland & Wolff knew its ship was flawed. But most historians come to a different conclusion. "The fact that the ship broke up on the surface does not mean she was weak,"

says Long. When 38,000 tons of water filled its bow, pushing the stern up even 11 degrees out of the water, the ship was loaded beyond its capacity and cracked in two.

1 comment:

Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been interesting in the story of the Titanic since I was about 12 and venturing into the State Library at 14 was my first experience with researching in newspaper archives.

I hadn't heard this theory and it certainly sound plausible. Unlike the Olympic and Titanic were switched and then intentionally sunk conspiracy theory.