107 #62: The Californian saw Titanic’s distress signals but ignored them

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titanic Californian

TRUE. The Californian had narrowly avoided running into the same icefield that Titanic would have collided with, had she not hit an outlying iceberg just before she reached the main field. Captain Lord brought Californian to an emergency stop just in time to avert disaster and then quite correctly decided to remain stationary until daylight. After he stopped, Lord observed Titanic approaching, but due to unusual atmospheric conditions, he judged her to be a 400-foot ship five miles away, instead of an 800-foot ship 10 miles away.

Thus, incorrectly convinced the ship he was looking at was not the Titanic, he quite correctly asked his wireless operator, Cyril Evans, to see what ships he had and to warn them about the ice. When Evans carried out this order, he discovered that the only ship within wireless range of Californian was the Titanic and informed the captain of this. Given that what Lord saw had already led him to the conclusion that the ship he was looking at was not the Titanic, this new information now led him to a second incorrect conclusion: that the ship he was looking at did not have wireless. Lord then went to bed, ordering his watch officers to therefore try to contact the stranger by Morse lamp and identify her.

The real distance between the two ships—at least 10 miles—coupled with the abnormal atmospheric conditions, meant that Titanic and Californian could not read each other’s Morse signals. When his officers reported that the stranger had not replied to the Morse lamp either, this not only confirmed to Lord his impression that this was not the Titanic, but also convinced him that whatever ship she was must have been all right, as otherwise she would certainly have seen his signals and replied, at the distance she appeared to be.

Later that night, however, Second Officer Stone and the Apprentice, Gibson, observed several rockets in the direction of the stranger. The same abnormal atmospheric conditions also caused Titanic’s rockets to appear lower on the horizon, as if they could have been coming from beyond the stranger or perhaps not have been distress rockets at all. Nonetheless, Stone and Gibson correctly concluded that the ship they could see was in some sort of distress and reported this to Captain Lord.

Given that Lord believed the stranger was not the Titanic, had ignored his Morse and did not have wireless, he was not minded to risk his ship and the lives of his men on a wild goose chase down to this peculiar stranger in the treacherous ice conditions which had nearly sunk his own ship earlier, especially as he had no previous experience of ice and his sailing orders ordered him not to enter it. He probably concluded this was a tramp steamer with a slack crew who at worst might have broken their rudder and required assistance. Convincing himself that whatever it was could wait about three hours until daylight, when it could if necessary be dealt with quickly and safely, and reminding himself that even the international regulations concerning distress signals did not require ships to go to the aid of other ships if that meant unduly imperiling the lives of his own men, Lord took advantage of a rare opportunity for rest while his ship remained stationary.

A detailed study and explanation of the atmospheric conditions that existed at Titanic’s wreck site, and the part they played in the Californian Incident and the Titanic disaster, are the subject of this author’s forthcoming book A Very Deceiving Night, further particulars of which can be found at www.averydeceivingnight.com.

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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