107 #32: Titanic’s lookouts could smell the ice that night

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TRUE. The reference in James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, to lookout Reginald Lee’s claim that he could ‘smell ice’ stems from Lee’s testimony at the British inquiry:

2662: ‘You knew that ice was about?’

‘You could smell it.’

The Commissioner: ‘Smell it?’

Mr. Harbinson: ‘That is his reply.’

In fact George Symons, on the lookout with Archie Jewell, before Fleet and Lee, testified that he could smell the ice as early as 9 p.m.:

11334: ‘You know Sunday, the night of the 14th April; do you remember getting special orders from the bridge?’

‘Yes; we had special orders about 9.30.’

11335: ‘9.30 that night?’


11336: ‘Through the telephone?’

‘Through the telephone.’

11337: ‘Do you know from whom?’

‘No, I could not say.’

11338: ‘From some Officer on the bridge?’

‘From some Officer on the bridge.’

11339: ‘Can you tell me what he said?’

‘“Keep a sharp look-out for small ice and bergs till daylight, and pass the word along.” That was the order received by Jewell and me; we both heard it through the phone.’

11340: ‘Had you noticed anything to lead you to think you might meet icebergs before you got that message?’

‘Yes; just a small conversation, I think, about 9 o’clock. My mate turned round from time to time and said, “It is very cold here.” I said, “Yes; by the smell of it there is ice about.” He asked me why, and I said, “As a Rule you can smell the ice before you get to it.”’

First Class passenger Elizabeth Weed Shutes also smelt the ice before the collision that night and described it in the opening paragraph of her 1912 account, When the Titanic went down, as follows:

‘Such a biting cold air poured into my stateroom that I could not sleep, and the air had so strange an odor, as if it came from a clammy cave. I had noticed that same odor in the ice cave on the Eiger glacier.’

Lookouts Lee and Symons were referring to that same smell of ice which Elizabeth Shutes noticed. Unfortunately, being able to smell the ice surrounding Titanic that night did not save the ship, since it was quite normal to be close enough to ice to smell it in the freezing waters of the Labrador Current, but still be able to see an iceberg in time to avoid it.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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