A Shot in the Dark


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Hi all,

just finished reading Steve Santini's book Titanic Touchstones of a Tragedy, a very interesting look at the disaster from the perspective of the Titanic collection of the Manitoba Museum.

my question regards the following passage from the book starting at the very bottom of page 34 and into the first paragraph on 35:

....undertaker named Thad Stevens who was called to Halifax to work on the bodies of reclaimed Titanic victims. Stevens would later claim that John Snow, a Halifax undertaker, had personally told him that he had seen evidence of gunshot wounds on the bodies of some of the recovered victims.

this paragraph really piqued my interest, as in all my readings on the disaster over the years I don't ever remember reading about gunshot wounds found on victims's bodies. Steve, I know you sometimes watch this site. I would be very interested in any further background information you have about this comment from your book. and to the Titanic community in general, does anyone else have any information about this?

as always, thanks in advance to any and all who can comment.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
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Tracey McIntire

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Hi Michael!

I've been trying to find this book at local bookstores but haven't had any luck. Barnes and Noble doesn't have it listed. Were you able to buy it in the US? It sounds like a very intriguing book and I would love to read it.

Thanks!

Tracey McIntire
 

George Behe

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Michael wrote:

>....I don't ever remember reading about gunshot wounds found on victims's bodies. Steve....I >would be very interested in any further >background information you have about this >comment from your book.

Hi, Michael!

I agree. Steve has uncovered some fascinating information on that subject, and I hope he'll see fit to elaborate on it here.

Steve's book is well worth obtaining -- it's chock full of illustrations of Titanic-related artifacts that most folks have never seen before (all of which are on display in his museum exhibit.) Good stuff!

(Thanks again, Maureen! You're the best!) :)

All my best,

George
 

Steve Santini

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Dear Michael,
RE: Thad Stevens.
Many years ago, when I lived in Nova Scotia, I met a man named Sep Bonner who had at one time lived in Hampton, New Brunswick. Bonner told me that one of his next door neigbours had been a man named Thadeus Stevens ("Thad" for short). As it turned out, Bonner and his children sort of "looked after" Thad prior to his placement in an extended care home. As the friendship between Bonner and Stevens developed, Stevens told Bonner he had all his life been an undertaker. In 1912, he had just finished his apprenticeship when a call went out from John Snow and Co. of Halifax summoning all Maritime undertakers to Halifax to work on the recovered bodies of Titanic victims. Bonner told me that Stevens had told him this was in fact his first serious work in his trade and it was very deeply engraved in his memory. Stevens went to Halifax and helped prepare bodies for veiwing in Halifax's Mayflower Curling Rink where they were laid out for possible identification by visiting relations.Stevens went on to tell Bonner that he had a personal experience(as well as oral history related to him by undertaker John Snow) of bodies which bore the evidence of gunshot wounds. He went on to say he was "advised" not to mention this to anyone or to talk about it at all. This promise he kept until over alomst 70 years later. We do know that Stevens was there as a New Brunswick newspaper story about his life that came out many years later mentioned his involvement in the work on Titanic victims. As well, Stevens kept a copy of the telegram summoning him to Halifax and he also kept a White Star Line uniform button he says he personally removed from the uniform of a victim as a sort of "souvenir" of the event. Many years later, this button was "purchased" by a dealer in ocean liner memorabillia named Denis Cochrane. Cochrane bought it from the family that Stevens had willed it to. I have personally been in contact with surviving relations of Stevens who also recall his tales of gunshot wounds on victims. It is also of interest to note that following Ballard's discovery of the wreck in 1985, an article appeared in a Halifax newspaper which featured Stevens and his story of the shootings. The article, titled, "Were Titanic Victims Shot?", told of Stevens' involvement in the preparation of recovered victims and also contained his mention of hearing John Snow tell him that he had personally seen evidence of gunshot wounds on some of the victims picked up by the Mackay Bennett. Stevens went on to say that Snow told him that these victims were "among those shrouded and sent back to sea" i.e. (buried at sea). The same article contains comments by both an "expert" from the Halifax Maritime Museum of the Atlantic as well as THS President Ed Kamuda. Both men say they doubt such claims. One of them even goes on to say that if shootings had happened, he was suprised that the subject had never been brought up before! HA! Had these "experts" bothered to study COUNTLESS period newspaper accounts of the disaster, they would have run into reams of print mentioning the gunplay on the decks of Titanic as seen by actual survivors of the event. It is sometimes too bad that many will ignore recorded history in order to keep a romantic "vision" of the sinking deeply rooting in the minds of the public.I recall that one of the late Stevens' relations told me that he later claimed he had also seen evidence of gunshots; not just John Snow. She went on to add that Stevens should know what a gunshot wound looked like because in World War 1 he served as a medical assistant overseas. Hope this helps answer you question. Kind regards, Steve Santini
 

Steve Santini

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Dear Michael,
P.S., I knew that mentioning the shootings on Titanic would turn the Titanic community on it's ear! If you thought that was radical, please take a look at the surmise I have in the book re: Fredrick Fleet and the key to the phone box in the crow's nest. I must thank George Behe for informing me that if in fact this was the way "things went down" in the crow's nest (my theory in the book), then it would possibly answer many "problems" historians have had with the order of events from the time Fleet and Lee saw the iceberg until the ship's bow began to execute it's turn. Once again, thanks George! Nothing like feeling one may have added to the background of a legend to make a historian's heart glow. You are too kind! Just thought I would mention this Michael. Sorry to get "off course"... Cheers! Steve Santini
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Okay - let me say that I doubt the stories that some of the Titanic victims' bodies had gunshot wounds. It's all second hand for one, and from what I could gather from your synopsis, these stories all emerged in the 1980s. Sensational stories like that often pop up years after the fact; you wouldn't believe the amount of balderdash that appeared from survivors of the battle of the Little Bighorn 50 or 60 years after the fact, stuff that is simply not true.

Just so I don't give the wrong impression, I'm one of those who believe an officer probably did commit suicide, perhaps after shooting two others. However, the statistical odds against even one body with a gunshot wound being recovered, let alone "bodies", is enormous. If 3 people out of 1500 went into the water with gunshot wounds, then there's only a .2% chance of a gunshot victim being recovered. Since only 328 bodies were found, that brings the odds even smaller.
 

Steve Santini

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Dear Jason,
Thank you for your posting. However I must remind you that Thad Stevens told his story of the gunshot wounds to Sep Bonner BEFORE the discovery of the wreck in 1985. He later re related his story for a Halifax newspaper in 1985 when the discovery was made. Please tell me, why would a man who was obviously there have an reason to make up such a sensationalistic story prior to the wreck's discovery when very few people had ANY interest in Titanic at all? As well, the surviving relations of Stevens remember him relating the SAME INFORMATION even before Sep Bonner became his neighbour. Why? The man had no reason to lie. And, finally, please explain to me why NUMEROUS period 1912 newspaper accounts of the sinking mention 3rd class survivors stating that they had seen the use of handguns by officers against their own numbers? The eveidence of gunpaly and even fatal shootings is simply too great to be ignored.Many people claimed to have seen it as it happened and obviously an undertaker who was actually THERE and onsite both saw and heard things which support this claim. I should mention that a Brandon Manitoba newspaper printed shortly after the return of Mackay Bennett contains the mention that shortly after Mackay Bennett's return to port with the victims aboard, one of the crew members of the Mackay Bennett told reporters that the bodies they had found were "in good condition and with no gunshots on any"... NO GUNSHOTS! What is this!?! If I hear of a shipwreck, the first thing I think of is death by drowning, and, perhaps death by exposure. I DO NOT think of death by firearm. The question remains, why did any one else? As for officer(s) commiting suicide with pistols; I recall that many years ago I told Ken Marschall about my research into Thad Stevens and the shootings. He then went on and mentioned my research to Don Lynch. He got back to me and told me that Don was not convinced there were shooting on Titanic. How ironic then that Don became historian to Cameron's "Titanic" and that the same movie clearly shows two passengers being shot by an officer. If Don really did not believe any of the gunplay against passengers was possible, why did it make it into the film? In closing, I find it hard to believe that in the final hour of the sinking order was kept and mayhem did not rule on the decks of Titanic. Let's be logical. It was probably sheer Hell. Countless terrified passengers, many of whom did not speak English, an inexperienced crew who had not even had a lifeboat drill, and senior officers issued sidearms by the Master at Arms. A better recipe for disater and mayhem I have never seen. Kind Regards, Steve Santini.
 
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Tracey McIntire

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Thanks for the link, Michael. I'm not much of an on-line shopper so that's why I've probably missed it. With all of this great discussion going on it really is a must-read for me now!

Sincerely,
Tracey McIntire
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Steve-

Why would Theodore Goldin invent a story that he was Custer's next-to-last messenger?

Why would Peter Thompson invent a whole tissue of stories about being at the Little Bighorn?

Why would Frank Finckle claim to be the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand?

Why would Edwin Pickard claim to be Captain Yates's orderly when it would make no sense for Yates to assign his personal orderly to the pack train detail?

Why would Wooden Leg claim that nearly all of Custer's soldiers committed suicide?

Why would Edward Pigford claim to witness the last stages of Custer's fight from a hill north of Weir Point?

I could go on and on, with the stories of just one battle. Why do people lie? Because they do. Do people need a reason to lie? Not necessarily. If Bonner lied, or Snow lied, did they have a reason? You bet: it's a sensational story that gets people's attention, like it got yours, and that 1985 Halifax reporter.

My point wasn't that the Bonner stories only appeared after the discovery of Titanic's wreck (which I didn't mention at all) it was that these stories popped up so late - in the 1980s apparently. (And I'm sure that many on the board can assure you that there were many people interested in the Titanic before 1985 - there were three movies, on the subject weren't there? - a pretty good indication of popular interest)

As to why Bonner told these stories: he may have been senile. He may have been lying. He may have sincerely believed them, but was mistaken in what Snow told him. Snow may have lied to him. Or Snow may have mistaken other damage to the bodies as gunshot wounds.

Like I said, I think a shooting(s) likely happened. It is these very late stories about bodies recovered that I doubt. Just because A is true it does not follow that B is true as well.

As to the sailor who reported there "were no gunshots on any." You ask, why did anyone even think to ask about that? And I think your answer is right in front of you: the numerous newspaper reports that shootings did occur.

You'll have to ask Don Lynch that question you have of him, and honestly, I don't see what relevance it has to the points I raised. Like I said, I see no reason to doubt the numerous CONTEMPORANEOUS and FIRST-HAND reports in their substance that a fatal shooting took place near a collapsible. It is the NON-CONTEMPORANEOUS and SECOND-HAND reports of bodies with gunshot wounds being recovered that I doubt.

Regards,
Jason
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Oops - sorry. Replace the name Bonner with Stevens in my last post.

Jason
 
Oct 13, 2000
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Hi Steve,

and thanks! for the fascinating background information about Stevens. very interesting stuff! one thing I am curious about though - if gunshot wounds were found by the embalmers in Halifax, wouldn't this information have been noted in their reports? It was my understanding that each body was given a very detailed write-up. as I recall, the death certificates only noted death by drowning/freezing. it seems to me that the presence of a gunshot wound could radically alter the cause of death!

which is why I was wondering if there was any documentation from the period which could colloborate this. I am having a difficult time believing that this sort of evidence, if present, could have been surpressed.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T

p.s. Tracey, glad you found the book okay. it is getting to the point that shopping on-line is the only sure way to get books these days. I am surprised your local Barnes & Noble (assuming you have one) did not offer to order this for you, even if they did not have it in-store.

p.p.s. back to you Steve. I did note the other potential bombshell in your book, about the crows nest telephone box being locked. but I wanted to tackle one radical new theory at a time! :).
 

George Behe

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Hi, Steve!

Thanks very much for posting a more complete account re: possible bullet wounds on recovered bodies. Interesting stuff! (Methinks a spirited discussion of your findings is in the offing.) :)

Nice to see you here, old chap. Take care.

All my best,

George
 

Steve Santini

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Dear Jason,
According to relatives of Stevens, he related the stories about the gunshot wounds on victims a LONG time before the 1980's. As a matter of fact, I have a letter from a relative of his that states she heard the same stories as a very young girl. This would have been when he was already a senior citizen. Looking back at your initial posting regarding this topic ,(shootings), I am curious as to why you are "one of those who believes there probably was a suicide by an officer after two shootings". Please tell me why you embrace this possibility? I recall no evidence being offered on this at either the American or British Inquiry into the disaster. Is it possible you believe this merely because it was shown in the Cameron film and thus it must be true? As well, if there were reports of shootings of this nature near one of the collapsible boats as you mention, why should these reports be given any more heed than the equally comtemporaneous reports in the period newspapers that many saw such acts AS WELL as the fact that the PERIOD memories of a man who was actually there state that some of the recovered had gunshot wounds and were returned to the deep. You will notice, if you read my book, that I am not stating, nor implying that MANY of the recovered bodies had these wounds, ONLY SOME. AND, I will make it very clear that my book ONLY relates the story Stevens told REPEATEDLY that John Snow told him personally that he had seen evidence of gunshot wounds on some of the recovered bodies and that these were among those consigned to the deep. I am not claiming, nor did Stevens, nor any of his living relations, that MANY or A LOT of the bodies had these wounds, only that SOME of them did. To address Michael's question: Why were these wounds not reported in coroner's reports: If what Stevens says was true, and the bodies which bore these wounds were buried at sea, the only one who would have been privy to such information (and qualified to record it) would have been undertaker John Snow who was at sea on board the Mackay Bennett. Henceforth, it would have been up to Snow what he in fact listed on the death certificates. As for Thad Stevens actually seeing such wounds on the bodies brought to Halifax... I cannot say. I simply was "not there". I can only relate and research what Stevens told others about the event. By the way, I contacted Snows Funeral Home in Halifax a number of years ago in the hopes of looking at death certificates. The current operators informed me that all of the old records/ archives were thrown out when the firm moved to a new location in the early 1970's. Damn! As for comments about General Custer and the Little Bighorn and any other item of Western lore, I will leave that up to the "experts". All I know about Westerns is that Sergio Leone made some darn great movies! Kind regards, Steve Santini.
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Steve-

As far as I can see, these stories only emerge in the 1980s. Perhaps a relative did hear such a story as a young girl, but this only creates more problems - a thirdhand, childhood memory that would have happened years after the fact anyway.

Steve said:
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Is is possible you believe this merely because it was shown in the Cameron film and thus it must be true?
***

Although I presume you meant well, please don't insult my intelligence. I would no more use Cameron as a source then I would the secondhand stories of Mr. Stevens. I can do no better than to direct you to Bill Wormstedt's site.

In a word, of the 40 or so survivors who were on board the Titanic at the time this incident is alleged to have occurred, Rheims, Daly, and Jansson, Dorking, and Sunderland all say some sort of shooting took place at the end. This suggests to me a probability that something of the kind occurred, although I have gotten the impression that the two of us have nothing to debate on that matter. Thad Stevens's bodies, remember?

You say Thad Stevens's claims were "Period memories." I don't know that and neither do you. Show me a letter that he wrote in 1912 talking about it and then we'll have something to talk about. And even if there was a letter, it would be a big step to say that that "proves" bodies with gunshot wounds were found. The lack of corroborating evidence is deafening.

If you will read my objections, you will note that my bone to pick with you was exactly your claim (or Stevens') that *some* bodies with bullet wounds were alleged to be found. As I said earlier, it would be a miracle if just one body was found with a gunshot wound, but that "some" were found stretches credulity. To believe something so incredible we need evidence better than a secondhand story that only emerged in the 1980s. To repeat: the claim that "some" were found is as unbelievable as ever.

I don't know what you find so significant about Stevens "repeatedly" telling this story. How many times do I have to say the sun is green before it becomes true?

Regards,
Jason
 

Steve Santini

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Jason,
You strike me as a very interesting fellow who seems to believe some things you read and not others. I wonder exactly why this is. I am not attempting to insult your intelligence so please do not insult mine. To imply that more than one body may have been recovered with a gunshot wound is not as much of a stretch of the imagination as you may like to believe. For example: In both the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and our collection there are documented sections of wood from the grand staircase of Titanic. The MMA's was recovered by the Mackay Bennett (a handrail), and ours was recovered by the Minia (also a handrail with the same carving). What are the odds of this happening given the passage of time, the ocean currents, AND the bare fact that there was only ONE aft grand staircase in the area where Titanic broke apart? Perhaps the odds are even higher than ONE SHIP (Mackay Bennett) finding more than one body bearing evidence of gunshot wounds. Consider that. I do not intend to argue this point until time eternal. However, I WILL say that many accounts DO exist (period 1912) of survivors seeing people shot on the decks of Titanic. My book does not claim this to be a carved in stone concrete fact but it DOES relate the statements of an undertaker who WAS THERE, who DID WORK ON BODIES OF VICTIMS, and who DID KNOW John Snow. Perhaps more importantly, this individual did tell this same story to several people PRIOR to the discovery of the ship in 1985 and the onset of "Titanic Hype". In closing Jason, I would like you to consider this; if all of Thad Stevens' "tales" or "recollections" are not true and are mere "myths" or "lies", what proof does anyone really have from any eyewitness to any historical or other event when that person is claiming to repeat something they were told or something they saw? If you have problems with my recording of the oral history as related by Thad Stevens, you must also have problems with nearly every eyewitnesses' recollections of the sinking. After all, neither you, nor I , were there. Kind regards, Steve Santini. P.S. Have you read the book?
 

Eric Sauder

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Steve Santini wrote:

"As for officer(s) commiting suicide with pistols; I recall that many years ago I told Ken Marschall about my research into Thad Stevens and the shootings. He then went on and mentioned my research to Don Lynch. He got back to me and told me that Don was not convinced there were shooting on Titanic. How ironic then that Don became historian to Cameron's "Titanic" and that the same movie clearly shows two passengers being shot by an officer. If Don really did not believe any of the gunplay against passengers was possible, why did it make it into the film?"

Because Don was an advisor and historian. He was not the script writer, and he was not Jim Cameron. Although I have no specific knowledge of what the working relationship between Don and other people at Fox was, having seen first hand the dismissive way Ken Marschall was treated by various "underlings" of Cameron, I can imagine Don suggesting until he was blue in the face, but basically being ignored. I know that Ken disagreed with a number of things in the script (and, more importantly, problems with the sets), but others had the final say.

Eric Sauder
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Steve said:
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You strike me as a very interesting fellow who seems to believe some things you read and not others. I wonder why this is.
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Well, basically for the reason that not everything we read in books is true. Go to the "Waratah Found" thread where certain tales recounted in books were discussed.

Steve said:
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To imply that more than one body may have been recovered with a gunshot wound is not as much of a stretch of the imagination as you may like to believe.
***

Well, it is. The grand staircase, as you know, was a very big structure, and I don't see what's so startling about two small pieces of it being picked up a week later.

1500 bodies went into the sea. From the survivor accounts, no more than 3 or 4 could have gone in with gunshot wounds, assuming the incident did happen. 328 bodies were recovered. The odds of just one wounded body being recovered is slim at best, but "some"? Furthermore, there are no contemporary reports of any body or bodies being found with bullet wounds. All we have is a secondhand statement from the 1980s. It is NOT corroborated by anyone who was actually on the scene in the recovery ships - not even Snow, for that matter! Show me a letter written by Snow in 1912 that refers to this incident.

Steve also said:
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...what proof does anyone really have from any eyewitness to any historical or other event when that person is claiming to repeat something they were told or something they saw?
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First of all, I think we should be wary of any accounts by people repeating "something they were told." The further a story gets from its original source, the more unreliable it is.

As for firsthand accounts (which the Stevens tale is not) we should use our critical faculties. How well does it compare with other firsthand accounts? How well does it compare with the known physical evidence? How much time elapsed between the event and the person's recounting of it? That kind of stuff.

Steve said:
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...you must also have problems with nearly every eyewitnesses' recollections of the sinking.
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Perhaps. Right off, I would say that it is a bad idea to treat any personal account as "gospel". You assess an account's reliability by comparing it with others, with certain other indisputable facts, and whether the events recounted make any logical sense (i.e. Emilio Portaluppi is said to have claimed to have used a piece of ice as a raft, but that doesn't seem likely to me). And even accounts which I personally consider among the best, such as Gracie's, can be incorrect: you don't really think the Titanic sank in one piece just because Gracie and a few others said so, do you?

I understand that you do not claim what Stevens recounted to be a concrete fact. But understand that I do not believe the information given by Stevens is correct. It's secondhand, reported only 70 years after the fact, and there is no contemporary confirmation.

Regards,
Jason
 

Tad G. Fitch

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Dear Steve and Jason,
How are all of you doing? Good I hope.

Jason wrote:
"Furthermore, there are no contemporary reports of any body or bodies being found with bullet wounds. All we have is a secondhand statement from the 1980s."

This comment is not really accurate at all. In a press article that appeared in several papers right after the Carpathia arrived in New York, one Carpathia passenger claimed that one of the bodies brought onboard the ship after the survivors were rescued, was a fireman who had a bullet wound on him. He stated that he had been "shot by one of the officers for disobeying orders" and pushing into the last boat ahead of the women and children. While nothing has been found to support this man's assertions about a body such as this being recovered by the Carpathia, and I do not place much credence in the story, it is not true that there were no contemporary reports of bodies being recovered with bullet wounds.

I hope that all of you will have a nice day.
All my best,
Tad Fitch
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Tad -

Thanks for the info. Okay, I stand corrected. One report: about the Carpathia, but the details of which are apparently uncorroborated.

Thanks,
Jason
 
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