Cause of Death for RMS Titanic victims

Dec 6, 2000
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Ryan:

The explosions that Mike talks about, were heard by surviviors immediately after the ship went under. In other words, while the stern was probably within a few hundred feet of the surface, at the most.
 
May 12, 2005
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Responding belatedly to David G. Brown’s post that there may not have been many people left in the water to rescue, I have to say that the volume and endurance of the cries of those struggling after the sinking should discount this. Even allowing for the fact that sounds echo over water, there must have been hundreds of people who were "rescueable" (if that’s a word). There were probably hundreds of people below deck and as many who were killed on deck from injuries sustained in the break-up, but the cries of people left behind were loud enough -- and lasted long enough -- to indicate that many might have been saved after the sinking. Had Titanic not gone down at night, when there was such fear and confusion produced by the low visibility, the half-empty lifeboats would have been more willing to row back to help swimmers. As it was, the horror of the screams, which weren’t traceable in the dark, indicated danger and produced a sense of self-preservation.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>How would the explosions have been heard on the surface?<<

I'll leave the "how" to the people who are a whiz in physics, but I do know that sound propagates quite well through water. Passive sonar systems on military vessels (A fancy term for some very advanced hydrophones) depends on it. That survivors reported hearing them is a matter of documented record in sworn testimony. As Bill indicated, it's very likely that the hull sections which imploded were within a few hundred feet of the surface when this event happened.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Randy--I'm not so sure that the extended sounds of people screaming were from wet victims. In fact, as anyone who has plunged into shockingly cold water can attest, an immersion in the 28 degree ocean would have stopped many people from making any sound other than low gasps for air. I rather suspect that the protracted length of the screaming is related to the speed at which the severed stern rotated, upended, and filled with water.

You are undoubtedly correct that the sounds of those plaintive voices would have carried across the water. Maybe, if the shouting were loud enough, the sound would have come through the water as well. I also suspect that in their nightmares the lifeboat survivors were awakened by dreams of those shouts more than by any other recollection.

The sound probably did not have far to travel to reach the survivors. I suspect some wives from time to time thought they could pick out their husband's voice from the multitude. Some boats must have been close enough to occasionally pick out a familiar silhouette until the lights mercifully went dark.

Titanic's lifeboats were clumsy craft at best underpowered by inexperienced rowers. A lightweight racing shell has difficulty moving more than a boat length or so under the strong pull of skilled rowers. I seriously doubt that a single pull of four or so oars (typical for a lifeboat) would have moved a boat more than 20 to 30 feet--including the "shoot" forward after the stroke. To go 600 feet as some survivors recalled, would have taken 20 to 30 hard pulls--enough effort to work up a sweat even on a cold night. Nobody describes working that hard at rowing. The boats were probably closer to the ship than they said. This means they really did not have to "go back," but were actually in the thick of the action already.

So what? How do you take a clumsy boat up to a ship that is rolling to port, sinking by the bow, shedding its funnels, and breaking apart? Oh, and how do you do it with inexperienced rowers and a bunch of frightened passengers already aboard?

Based on the stopped personal timepieces of Thayer and Gracie, and the time of sinking taken by stewardess Robinson, there is an approximate 5 to 7 minute time period in from when the last of the lights went out to the disappearance of the stern from beneath baker Joughin's feet. Seven minutes can seem an eternity under some circumstances, such as listening to your loved ones die.

Sudden immersion of a human being into cold water causes several instinctive reactions, among which can be a sudden gasp. If the victim's airways are submerged the result is often fatal. Anyone who fortified themselves with alcohol would very likely have suffered a heart seizure from a mixup in the mammalian diving response caused by booze. This occurs when cold water hits the victim's face. And, from personal experience I can say that anyone with a touch o' asthma finds their air passages constrict rapidly to the point of near stoppage in cold water.

Research into cold water exposure that I have read indicates within moments people begin to lose the ability to scream due in part to difficulty breathing. This is one reason why it is a good idea to attach mouth whistles (e.g. an Acme "Thunderer") to life jackets. Strange but true, someone without enough "puff" to shout can blow a whistle to attract attention. As far as Titanic goes, if what I've read about cold water immersion is true, the shouting would have subsided rather quickly--within a few minutes--of when the ship disappeared.

During the first say 10 minutes after the ship disappeared most of the apparently dead people in lifebelts weren't technically deceased. Modern techniques could have resuscitated the majority with varying degrees of brain damage. No such techniques existed in 1912. In fact, the conventional tot of whiskey to warm semi-conscious victims was more often fatal.

Up to now this subject has been unpleasant, but here is where the discussion turns ugly. Our human emotional response is to treat our dead with dignity. Sometimes reality gets in the way of our valid emotional desires and that night on the Atlantic was just such a situation. The commanders of each lifeboat had only one concern--to keep the living alive. Even if a few floating victims were technically alive, the boats would have been correct in not recovering them. Those victims would be dead soon enough under the circumstances and there is no advantage to either the quick or the dead in filling the lifeboats with either corpses or corpses-to-be.

In the conventional view the boats did nothing. Perhaps is true of a few boats which must have been close enough to some victims conscious enough for effective rescue. But, the majority of boats probably did all they could, which under the circumstances was nothing.

In the aftermath...I've wondered who really got the better deal that night. Was it those who stayed and died. Or,those who floated away and lived with lifelong memories of being helpless to aid loved ones they could hear shouting in the dark? There is a price to pay for survival.

--David G. Brown
 
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Feb 9, 2006
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That was disturbing and enlightening, David.

It's amazing how common this idea that alcohol is a good idea in such circumstances is...

I seem to recall hearing about a flask or two being passed around in some lifeboats. I'm wondering, if you haven't been IN the cold water, and you've just been sitting in the (cold) boat, would a nip of something alcoholic be a bad idea? It would make you FEEL warmer, of course, but is it something you would want to avoid in any cold situation, or just pre and post immersion in freezing waters?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>but is it something you would want to avoid in any cold situation, or just pre and post immersion in freezing waters?<<

Yes, it's generally a bad idea. The thing about alcohol is that it causes blood vessels to dialate. While the sudden rush of blood can make you feel warmer, the reality of the situation is that you're losing body heat that way through your skin. In the short term, I suppose it may help a bit in the short term but it's not without a price to be paid in the long haul.
 
Feb 9, 2006
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Hmm, thank you, Michael. It's an amazingly enduring piece of misinformation that alcohol actually helps...Makes me wonder what else out there is a myth that I wasn't previously aware of.
 

Ryan Thompson

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Drop a stone into a stream sometime and you should hear it hit bottom.

Ah, good point.

The explosions that Mike talks about, were heard by surviviors immediately after the ship went under. In other words, while the stern was probably within a few hundred feet of the surface, at the most.

Along the lines of the 'stone' analogy -- it wouldn't have much water to work its way through if it was only that far down.

Responding belatedly to David G. Brown’s post that there may not have been many people left in the water to rescue, I have to say that the volume and endurance of the cries of those struggling after the sinking should discount this. Even allowing for the fact that sounds echo over water, there must have been hundreds of people who were "rescueable" (if that’s a word). There were probably hundreds of people below deck and as many who were killed on deck from injuries sustained in the break-up, but the cries of people left behind were loud enough -- and lasted long enough -- to indicate that many might have been saved after the sinking. Had Titanic not gone down at night, when there was such fear and confusion produced by the low visibility, the half-empty lifeboats would have been more willing to row back to help swimmers. As it was, the horror of the screams, which weren’t traceable in the dark, indicated danger and produced a sense of self-preservation.

That has always given me the creeps. I always got the impression that while it was a relatively foggy night, it wasn't say, anywhere nearly as foggy as the Andrea Doria/Stockholm disaster's weather. And while it was a dark night, we're always shown that plenty of stars were out. Was there a moon (in any phase) that night?

Late last year there was a History Channel special in which James Cameron goes down to a spot some distance from the wreck and finds part of the ship's 'broken back'--a large panel from the underside basically telling us it sank faster than previously thought. In this same special, there is a reenactment showing people rowing away from yelling survivors in the water, who can be seen behind them about 50 to 80 feet away. A woman in Victorian-type dress and a shall is seen with her back turned to them, as if they aren't there. That gives me the creeps. Early on when I first started reading about the Titanic when I was a kid, one of the things I read was a number of the lifeboats were only partially full.

Also, speaking of alcohol being bad when it comes to cold weather/water, are there still St. Bernard rescue dogs in Europe with a brandy barrel around their neck?

Thanks,
Ryan Thompson
 
Jun 13, 2006
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Hi all.

What a fascinating if macabre discussion.

Regarding the sounds of explosions shortly after the ship left the surface, is there any testimony as to exactly how long after she disappeared that these explosions were heard?

It may sound insane and I maybe completely on the wrong track but I have been wondering recently whether or not these explosions were the noise of the wreck hitting the bottom. People who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Center when the buildings collapsed said the sound was an indescribable cacophony that (obviously) shook the ground. As Titanic would have been the equivalent of two skyscrapers smashing into the ground is this thought feasible? We all know that sound travels further in water and the impact noise would have been terrific, so is it possible?

Just a thought!

Love Rich
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Hello Ryan,

Late last year there was a History Channel special in which James Cameron goes down to a spot some distance from the wreck and finds part of the ship's 'broken back'
James Cameron was not involved in that project. That was done by Parks Stephenson, Ken Marschall, Roger Long, Simon Mills, John Chatterton, Richie Kohler (hosts of "Deep Sea Detectives") and a few others.
 
May 1, 2004
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Thank you, David Brown. Your post was enlightening. I have more sympathy now for the decision not to row back.

Regarding the use of alcoholic beverages for hypothermia and other emergencies: we know now that drinking same should not be done; but I wonder if that was known in 1912? Forcing brandy between the lips seems to have been the universal response for everything from a chill to a gunshot wound in fiction.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I always got the impression that while it was a relatively foggy night, it wasn't say, anywhere nearly as foggy as the Andrea Doria/Stockholm disaster's weather. And while it was a dark night, we're always shown that plenty of stars were out. Was there a moon (in any phase) that night? <<

Actually, there was no fog out there at all. None whatever. It was a clear and starry night (Sorry, no moon!) with a dead flat clam. A decidedly unusual condition on the North Atlantic but also a very fortunate one for those who took to the boats. Had it been the usual stormy and rough conditions, it's not likely that any of the boats could have been launched without a few losses. Had it been really, really, really stormy, they would not have been able to launch them at all.

>>It may sound insane and I maybe completely on the wrong track but I have been wondering recently whether or not these explosions were the noise of the wreck hitting the bottom.<<

Nope. The "explosions" were reported very shortly after the stern was completely submerged. I don't recall any testimony specifying an exact time and would tend to be suspicious af anything that was. It wasn't as if watches with illuminated dials existed back then.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Not to sound combative Dave, but you are doing it again.

To go 600 feet as some survivors recalled, would have taken 20 to 30 hard pulls--enough effort to work up a sweat even on a cold night. Nobody describes working that hard at rowing. The boats were probably closer to the ship than they said. This means they really did not have to "go back," but were actually in the thick of the action already.
Maybe you would break a sweat, but they certainly worked at pulling away. There was a general fear of suction, a concern that was also held by some of Titanic's officers as well.

11119. Did the boat, in fact, stand by at 150 or 200 yards? - [Hendrickson] We were just pulling around there about that distance.
11120. Just let us see what was done. Was this what was done, that you did pull as hard as you could for some considerable time? - For a time, yes.
11121. Did you then rest a bit? - Yes.
11122. Did you then pull again? - We kept on resting and pulling.
11123. At the time the “Titanic”￾ went down had you rested and pulled, rested and pulled, several times? - Yes.
11124. And all that time had you been pulling away from the ship in the direction the other boats had gone? - Yes, we were pulling about, and just keeping watch of them at the same time.
11125. By the time the “Titanic”￾ went down were you many hundreds of yards from the ship? - I could not say.
11126. Have you any judgment at all about distances at sea? - As I said before, somewhere about 200 yards.
11127. But you pulled in the first instance what you considered 200 yards, did you not, with a strong pull to get away from the ship? - Yes, but we were not pulling right straight away all the time. We were pulling away, and going along a little bit, and coming back again.
11128. I suggest you were pulling in the direction the other boats had gone and pulling away from the “Titanic”￾? - We were pulling away, yes.
11129. Up to the time the vessel sank. When the vessel sank she left the sea in darkness at the point where you had been able to see her lights? - Yes.
11130. And was all you were able to see of the “Titanic”￾ the outline of the figure as the stern rose in the air and the boat went down? - Yes.


and

15467. How far were you from the ship when she did sink? - [Boxhall] Approximately, half-a-mile.

Boxhall's boat actually pulled around to the other side of the ship passing under the raised stern. He was in boat No. 2 near the bow and pulled around opposite the starboard gangway. That alone is more than a couple of hundred yards.

And Rostron was later to testify that the boats were scattered over an area of 4 to 5 miles as seen from the Carpathia.

Based on the stopped personal timepieces of Thayer and Gracie, and the time of sinking taken by stewardess Robinson, there is an approximate 5 to 7 minute time period in from when the last of the lights went out to the disappearance of the stern from beneath baker Joughin's feet.
I'm not sure how you derived the time interval between the lights going out and when the stern going under from these references but I think it may have been a little less than that based on a number of survivor estimates. I think 5 minutes may be an upper limit. This is what Beesley described from lifeboat 13 in condensed form:

"As she swung up, her lights, which had shone without a flicker all night, went out suddenly, came on again for a single flash, then went out altogether. And as they did so, there came a noise...it went on successively for some seconds, possibly fifteen to twenty...When the noise was over ...we could see her now only as the stern and some 150 feet of her stood outlined against the star-specked sky, looming black in the darkness, and in this position she continued for some minutes--I think as much as five minutes, but it may have been less. Then, first sinking back a little at the stern, I thought, she slid slowly forwards through the water and dived slantingly down; the sea closed over her...All accounts agree that the Titanic sunk about 2:20 A.M.: a watch in our boat gave the time as 2:30 A.M. shortly afterwards."

As far as Titanic goes, if what I've read about cold water immersion is true, the shouting would have subsided rather quickly--within a few minutes--of when the ship disappeared.
Maybe without clothing, but witnesses in the boats described otherwise. Again, an example from someone who was there:

The cries, which were loud and numerous at first, died away gradually one by one, but the night was clear, frosty and still, the water smooth, and the sounds must have carried on its level surface free from any obstruction for miles, certainly much farther from the ship than we were situated. I think the last of them must have been heard nearly forty minutes after the Titanic sank. Lifebelts would keep the survivors afloat for hours; but the cold water was what stopped the cries.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>As far as Titanic goes, if what I've read about cold water immersion is true, the shouting would have subsided rather quickly--within a few minutes--of when the ship disappeared

According to the hyperthermia survival chart, in water 32F exhaustion and unconsciousness are to be expected in less than 15 minutes, with death resulting in a 15 minute to 45 minute time frame. Unless the Titanic's 1500 victims possessed, across the board, an abnormal amount of stamina and managed to buck the odds, chances are that most of them WERE either dead~ or incapable of crying out~ within the first quarter hour. The Lusitania's passengers, in water nearly 30F warmer, found themselves slipping into deep stupors and becoming groggy after only two hours, and I suspect that although perhaps a lucky few of the Titanic's people managed to raise themselves out of the water far enough on debris to die a protracted death waiting for help that never came, the majority were probably beyond help long before the occupants of, say, Boat 6 decided to abandon them.

If you've ever attended a trial, then you know that people tend to make HORRIBLE witnesses when it comes to matters of time and distance. It was extremely cold, extremely dark, and those factors when combined with the unpleasant quality of listening to people dying painful deaths close at hand, must have lead to an experience that SEEMED like 45 minutes. Given the choice between eyewitness testimony~ at best subjective~ or the times given on the various hypothermia survival charts, which are for the most part consistent, stick with the latter.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Assuming that that all these people were immersed fully in the water and that all the clothing on those that dressed warmly enough in several layers had no insulating affect. There were some that got part if not most of their body upon deck chairs and crates and the like. Gracie was one of them until he spotted the overturned collapsible B and swam over to it. Speaking of Gracie, he described the shrieks and cries as continuing on for about an hour as they grew weaker and weaker until they died out.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Speaking of Gracie, he described the shrieks and cries as continuing on for about an hour as they grew weaker and weaker

Gracie also claimed to have been under water for the duration of the sinking. Provided- and this is a big if- that he could have stopped ruminating long enough to actually take a deep breath, that means at the minimun he held his breath for at least a minute, and at the maximum, four minutes. Even with the strengthening effect of his grueling ten minute workout the previous morning, even the shorter of the times represents quite a feat
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What I am saying is that in terms of his rather fanciful account(s) one must approach him with a large grain of salt. True, he SAID it was an hour, but again, he was saturated after having been immersed in torturously cold water, laying and later standing in the dark on an upturned lifeboat in freezing cold air, and surrounded by something inconceivably horrible to hear. Given the circumstances, his powers of observation would not have been at their most acute~ the early stages of shock tend to make one a bit giddy. And, if his estimate of having stayed under water for 4 minutes is accurate, he was also suffering from brain damage from extreme oxygen starvation. I'm sure that it seemed like an hour to him~ but the charts and various hypothermia sites on the net are, cumulatively, more convincing than he is.

>Assuming that that all these people were immersed fully in the water

How could they not have been? Having an 882' 46,000 ton ship sink underneath one is not the same as being in an upset canoe, and although it is possible that a few people towards the end managed to swim off the ship- possibly from the forward ends of A deck and the boat deck- and not be immersed, the majority of the people would have been saturated by the sinking. If, by 'not fully immersed' you meant, wearing life jackets and/or clinging to debris that lifted the tops of their heads and armits out of the water then, yes, they would have LIVED longer but their time to effectively attempt to escape, or call for help, would have been only marginally longer. But, they would have had more time to drift in a stupor before passing out.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Sam-- I've rowed boats, and I've rescued people.

The quotes you have cited about rowing around really make my point. Nobody measured the distance or really knew what was happening. Boxhall did perform some excellent seamanship that night, but he was the exception. My only point is that I believe the estimated distances are honest, but mostly overstated.

Rostron's distance estimate for the boats is curious, but is it any more true than his statement that the CQD coordinates were accurate. And, "scattered over 4 or 5 miles means doesn't mean they were 4 or 5 miles apart--they would have been no more than 2 or 2.5 miles apart to meet Rostron's comment. But, how did he get his distance estimate. At 2 miles a lifeboat pointed at Carpathia would have been too small a dot for the range finding ability of human eyes. Did Rostron take a horizontal sextant angle and resolve the distance? Or a waterline to horizon sextant angle on the boats?

The darkening of the lights is something that Parks Stephenson is trying to sort out. Frankly, I think the bottom line of his work is going to reflect the same thing as the "sank intact" versus "broke apart" eyewitness accounts. Both versions appeared true depending upon the locations of the eyes of the witnesses. As Titanic neared its end there must have been a lot of strange things happening to the electrical circuits. My timing of "dark" for the ship is based on an analysis of several dozen accounts and some physical evidence.

But, the real reason for my post is that the location of the break would have stopped power from either set of dynamos about 5 to 7 minutes before the stern sank. But, even if by some miracle the lights kept burning for 10 minutes after the ship foundered my point would still be totally valid. It does not depend upon the lights but the actions of the ship as described by survivors and the evidence on the bottom.

As to shouting victims, I've rescued nine human beings from drowning. Didn't go out to rescue even one, but that's the lot fate dealt me and I really don't want to discuss that aspect of my career. The only thing which is relevant is the ability of those victims to raise a shout. I have noted that not one of those nine victims was able to raise a shout much louder than an ordinary speaking voice after as little as three minutes in water 25 to 30 degrees warmer than the night of April 14, 1912.

Two of the victims were college swim team members in good physical condition. They were not technically drowning, but less than 10 minutes in 58 degree (F) water had robbed them of the ability to properly shout. Neither man could have matched the sounds under discussion.

So, my experience corroborates the hypothermia studies. I am quite confident that most people would have effectively fallen silent after an extremely short immersion in 28 degree water.

Let me suggest that the rather sudden end to the shouting may have been a strong motivation for boats not to go back. What would you think if you were in a boat and suddenly several hundred voices stopped almost in unison? What would that suggest about the fate of your loved ones in that tumult? Would you want to go back?

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Hi Jim: I agree that Gracie was may be a bit overestimating things when he said an hour. By about 3:20 AM, an hour after the stern went under, rockets from the Carpathia were being observed and few minutes later her mast lights came over the horizon. But I would be careful of the information given on one of the charts that seam to appear on so many different websites. Whenever a single number is given it usually means it can be as quick as that. Usually there is a distribution. For example death from hypothermia in 0C (32F) water on one plot shows a range from 1/2 hour up to 2 hours with a mean about 1.25 hours. (see for example the curve shown at: http://hypothermia.org/Hypothermia_Ed_pdf/Hypothermia-Land-Water.pdf). Another reference shows a spread for 6C (43F) water listing time to unconsciousness from 0.8 to 2.6 hours for a lean person in light clothing. (see http://natsar.amsa.gov.au/Manuals/Land_Search_Operations_Manual/05.pdf.).

So my point is that there will be a small percentage of people that will last much longer than the average. How long depends on body weight, clothing, and other factors. To assume that after 15 minutes all will be unconscious as in that particular chart is probably not correct.
 

Ryan Thompson

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James Cameron was not involved in that project. That was done by Parks Stephenson, Ken Marschall, Roger Long, Simon Mills, John Chatterton, Richie Kohler (hosts of "Deep Sea Detectives") and a few others.

Wasn't he featured as a guest, though? Maybe I am thinking of a different special. James was talking about how he's been down to the wreck about 18 times and that this time might be his last, since the wreck is only going to deteriorate.

>>It may sound insane and I maybe completely on the wrong track but I have been wondering recently whether or not these explosions were the noise of the wreck hitting the bottom.<<

Nope. The "explosions" were reported very shortly after the stern was completely submerged. I don't recall any testimony specifying an exact time and would tend to be suspicious of anything that was. It wasn't as if watches with illuminated dials existed back then.


The wreck is a hair under 2 miles down, right? It would have taken a couple minutes, at least, to reach the bottom. There would have been air bubbles rising to the surface for hours, too.

Assuming that that all these people were immersed fully in the water and that all the clothing on those that dressed warmly enough in several layers had no insulating affect. There were some that got part if not most of their body upon deck chairs and crates and the like. Gracie was one of them until he spotted the overturned collapsible B and swam over to it. Speaking of Gracie, he described the shrieks and cries as continuing on for about an hour as they grew weaker and weaker until they died out.

I was thinking the same thing. There was a lot of debris floating on the surface, right? Things people could have clung to, ala the James Cameron movie?

Also, wasn't John Jacob Astor's watch found on him with his body was pulled out? (His body was recovered, right?)

Thanks,
Ryan Thompson
 

Jason D. Tiller

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Wasn't he featured as a guest, though?
No. You're thinking of "Last Mysteries of the Titanic" which was shown on the Discovery Channel last July; the one I'm referring to is called "Titanic's Last Moments: Missing Pieces" which was on the History Channel this past February.

Also, wasn't John Jacob Astor's watch found on him with his body was pulled out? (His body was recovered, right?)
Yes, Astor's gold watch was found on his body when it was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett on April 22.