107 #84: Most Titanic victims drowned

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Most Titanic victims drowned - true or false? Tim Maltin

FALSE. Although about 1,500 passengers and crew died in the sinking. Titanic sank in freezing water of between 28 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and hypothermia was therefore the cause of death for the majority, who literally froze to death, without any water in their lungs. It is not true that most Titanic victims drowned.

Hypothermia sets in more quickly in water, as heat is conducted away from the body 25 times more quickly than in air. In water under 35F, the maximum survival time is usually no more than 45 minutes, with loss of consciousness in less than 15 minutes.

Titanic’s lifeboats need not have worried about being swamped if they had returned to pick up swimmers as most of those in the water would therefore have been incapable of swamping a boat or even moving after a very short time. Even mild hypothermia impairs muscular control and dexterity, so those who had been in the water for more than a few minutes would have found it hard to swim towards lifeboats, and it wouldn’t have been very long before they became unable even to cry out. Struggling and swimming, which most people would have been doing, or trying to, usually makes cold water hypothermia worse, although exercise is advised for mild hypothermia and was probably what saved most of those sitting on the hull of the upturned Collapsible B, along with the fact that they had managed to get out of the water.

Entering cold water suddenly may cause death more quickly through hyperventilation and inhalation of water or through cardiac arrest from the shock. However, many of those in the water who looked dead may in fact have still been alive, since in some cases of hypothermia, usually when the person’s face has come into contact with cold water very suddenly, a dive reflex which is present in all mammals kicks in, allowing the body to preserve oxygen by lowering blood pressure and shutting down all non-essential systems. In these cases, the victim can look dead, but may be revived carefully. This was probably the explanation for the following chilling testimony from Frank H Morris, who went back to Titanic’s wreck site to look for survivors with Fifth Officer Lowe:

5388: ‘Is it the case that you could only see three people in the water?’

‘Oh, we saw hundreds in the water, but they were not crying for help; they might have been unconscious, they might have been dead, we could not say to that.’

In fact, the motto of one hypothermia expert is ‘You’re not dead until you’re warm and dead’, and resuscitation has been successful after as long as an hour.

A number of deaths may also have been caused by jumping into the water; if this is done while wearing a lifejacket and the correct procedure is not followed, severe injuries can result including a broken neck. This may have been a contributing factor in the death of some, including William Hoyt, who was pulled into lifeboat 14 bleeding from the nose and mouth and died soon after.

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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