Claim by James Cameron re: Bride and Phillips


RHeld

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Mar 27, 2012
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In his recent National Geographic article "Ghostwalking In Titanic" James Cameron makes this claim about Bride and Phillips:

"In the soundproof Marconi room, the wireless apparatus survives, the knife switches still in the positions left by the young operators, Harold Bride and Jonathan Phillips, revealing that they cut the power when they abandoned their post as the water rushed up the deck outside."

That's an odd conclusion: Bride swore over and over in his various accounts that the power died out of its own accord before they abandoned the Marconi Room. He makes no mention of either him or Phillips cutting the power, and why would they have needed to, anyway?
 
Jan 6, 2005
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People do all sorts of odd things when something unusual happens. I recall once that I had a vacuum cleaner that suddenly erupted into sparks and smoke while I was using it; it was immediately obvious that it was beyond repair. I was all the way out to the curb with it before I realized that I had neatly wound the cord back into its holders and put all its tools in their accustomed slots. Those little rituals had been part of putting the vacuum away for so long that I automatically did it even when it made little sense to do so. If Bride and Phillips put the switches in the "Off" position, they might not even have been aware of doing so; it might have been an automatic reaction to leaving their posts.
 

RHeld

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Mar 27, 2012
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But what if those switches got jarred into the "cutoff" position by the bow section's collison with the seafloor? Judging by all the mud it pushed up, it certainly didn't land light as a feather.
 
Jan 6, 2005
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I think you're asking for a level of exactitude that just isn't possible. You've named a scenario that could have happened. I've tried to name another. I don't think there's any way of knowing. As much as we like to think people can recall events exactly, they often cannot - just ask any traffic court judge.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Nobody can say what happened. But, it may be that Bride did have trouble getting Phillips to abandon his key. If so, Bride may have shut off the power to force Phillips to leave the cabin. The wireless was virtually inoperative at that point, anyway. Knife switches of the type installed in Titanic are hard to throw...deliberately so...making it doubtful the switch was opened by impact with the bottom.

-- David G. Brown
 
Jan 6, 2005
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Knife switches come in different sizes and ratings. I remember using them in grammar school for science experiments, and they are not easy to operate unintentionally - in fact, I would say of the ones I'm familiar with, pretty much impossible. When you close one, the blade is held in the base by a sort of spring-loaded gizmo that grips the blade. You have to consciously pull up to open the switch again, and as I recall, it took a bit of hand strength, even with those toy-sized versions.

I think the only way to know how the switches on Titanic operated and would have reacted to anything would be to research what was actually used and find one to experiment with.
 

Jay Roches

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Apr 14, 2012
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Philips didn't die at the key; he made it to the collapsible with Bride, but died afterwards. Even if the power was already going or gone, it makes sense that they would have turned off the main switches before leaving the ship. The radio equipment included a large DC motor, an alternator, a smaller motor for the spark gap, and several very large capacitors and transformers. The main transmitting circuit was at 30,000 volts AC. Switching that off when it was about to come into contact with sea water would have been a good idea, as well as a very logical thing to do when leaving their posts.

Bride (US Inquiry, Day 10) says that "the power was being impaired all the time" and that they were not getting a spark after they sent their last message. Getting a spark requires a very high voltage, something like 20,000 volts. No spark means no transmitter. But other components would still have been live, the motors still spinning, the capacitors still charged, even if the voltage wasn't high enough to make the set actually work. That further supports the idea that they would throw the main switches.
 

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