A Very Deceiving Night: “It was a dark mass that came through the haze”

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Refraction haze Titanic. Titanic’s lookouts also described a slight haze around the horizon, despite the remarkable clarity of the night, and they testified that the fatal iceberg appeared to come out of this haze at the last moment:

Reginald Lee, Titanic Lookout:

  1. What sort of a night was it?
    – A clear, starry night overhead, but at the time of the accident there was a haze right ahead.
  2. At the time of the accident a haze right ahead?
    – A haze right ahead – in fact it was extending more or less round the horizon. There was no moon.
  3. And no wind?
    – And no wind whatever, barring what the ship made herself.
  4. Quite a calm sea?
    – Quite a calm sea.
  5. Was it cold?
    – Very, freezing.
  6. Did you notice this haze which you said extended on the horizon when you first came on the look-out, or did it come later?
    – It was not so distinct then – not to be noticed. You did not really notice it then – not on going on watch, but we had all our work cut out to pierce through it just after we started. My mate happened to pass the remark to me. He said, “Well; if we can see through that we will be lucky.” That was when we began to notice there was a haze on the water. There was nothing in sight.
  7. You had been told, of course, to keep a careful look-out for ice, and you were trying to pierce the haze as much as you could?
    – Yes, to see as much as we could.
  8. (The Attorney-General.) I said 60 ft.; I am told it is about 55 feet. (To the Witness.) Can you give us any idea of the breadth [of the iceberg]? What did it look like? It was something which was above the forecastle?
    – It was a dark mass that came through that haze and there was no white appearing until it was just close alongside the ship, and that was just a fringe at the top.
  9. It was a dark mass that appeared, you say?
    – Through this haze, and as she moved away from it, there was just a white fringe along the top.
  10. Quite right; that is where she hit, but can you tell us how far the iceberg was from you, this mass that you saw?
    – It might have been half a mile or more; it might have been less; I could not give you the distance in that peculiar light.

Frederick Fleet, Titanic Lookout:

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Titanic Lookout Frederick Fleet © Science Photo Library

  1. Now at the time you went into the crow’s-nest, which would be at 10 o’clock on that night, was the sky clear?
    – Yes.
  2. The sea we know was very calm?
    – The sea calm.
  3. The stars shining?
    – Yes.
  4. Could you clearly see the horizon?
    – The first part of the watch we could.
  5. The first part of the watch you could?
    – Yes.
  6. After the first part of the watch what was the change if any?
    – A sort of slight haze.
  7. A slight haze?
    – Yes.
  8. Was the haze on the waterline?
    – Yes.
  9. It prevented you from seeing the horizon clearly?
    – It was nothing to talk about.
  10. It was nothing much, apparently?
    – No.
  11. Was this haze ahead of you?
    – Yes.
  12. Was it only ahead, did you notice?
    – Well, it was only about 2 points on each side.
  13. When you saw this haze did it continue right up to the time of your striking the berg?
    – Yes.
  14. Did you say anything to your mate about it?
    – Well, I told him there was a slight haze coming.
  15. Is that Lee?
    – Lee.
  16. At the time that you noticed the haze was there anything in sight?
    – No.
  17. Did it interfere with your sight ahead of you?
    – No.
  18. Could you see as well ahead and as far ahead after you noticed the haze as you could before?
    – It did not affect us, the haze.
  19. It did not affect you?
    – No, we could see just as well.

George Symons, on Titanic’s Lookout before Fleet and Lee, also testified to seeing the same ‘haze’, despite the clear night:

  1. While you were on the look-out, up to 10 o’clock, what sort of a night was it?
    – Pretty clear, Sir, a fine night, rather hazy; if anything a little hazy on the horizon, but nothing to speak of.
  2. Would you describe it as a very clear night?
    – Yes.

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Lord Mersey, Commissioner, British Titanic Inquiry

The Commissioner:
I mean the evidence before and after the accident is that the sky was perfectly clear, and therefore if the evidence of the haze is to be accepted, it must have been some extraordinary natural phenomenon…

In the past this important evidence has been disregarded as false and inconsistent with the clear night.   But it is for that reason an unlikely story to make up and Symons, who also testified to the haze, was not even on watch at the time of the collision.  Furthermore, their descriptions of a slight haze on a clear night, which did not seem to reduce visibility, is consistent with the apparent haze seen when a superior mirage is in fact present and scattering light on the horizon.

I hope by blogging chapters from my book, A Very Deceiving Night, it will contribute to the ongoing discussions regarding the atmospheric conditions on the night of the tragedy and the true causes of the disaster. At the moment, the book is only available as an e-book. If you wish to purchase it then you can do so in Amazon Kindle format here and other formats, including Apple, Kobo and Nook, here. Thank you.

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