Coal and Sparks shooting out of the Funnels


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Aaron_2016

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Does anyone know what caused sparks and huge lumps of coal to shoot out of the funnels? It was witnessed during the break up when survivors heard several explosions. Was this caused by the compression or release in pressure of air when the ship broke and the bow and stern compressed down together? (V shape). Was there an implosion in one of the boiler rooms which forced the coal to shoot out of the funnels? Was it a reaction of hot coal and freezing water bursting into the compartment and releasing an explosive charge?

Here are survivor accounts:



Charlotte Collyer
"Something in the very bowels of the Titanic exploded and millions of sparks shot up to the sky, like rockets in a park on the night of a summer holiday. This red spurt was fan shaped as it went up, but the sparks descended in every direction in the shape of a fountain of fire. Two other explosions followed, dull and heavy, as if below the surface. The Titanic broke in two before my eyes."


Jack Thayer
"One of the funnels seemed to be lifted off and fell towards me about 15 yards away, with a mass of sparks and steam coming out of it. I saw the ship in a sort of a red glare, and it seemed to me that she broke in two just in front of the third funnel.....The second funnel, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks."


William Mellors
"There was suddenly an explosion and I found myself whizzing through the water at an awful pace, having been blown away by the explosion. When I came to my senses a few minutes after, I looked round and suddenly saw the ship part in the middle."


August Weikman
"I think the boilers blew up about in the middle of the ship. The explosion blew me along with a wall of water. There were a great number of people killed by the explosion."


Abraham Hyman
"There came a terrible explosion, and I could see men, women and pieces of the ship blown into the air from the after deck. Later I saw bodies partly blown to pieces floating around, and I am sure more than a hundred persons were blown off into the sea by that explosion. A terrible hissing of steam began and the awful cry went on. I tried to close my ears, but there was some mysterious attraction and I had to hear that cry. The hissing and screaming kept up, and finally the ship seemed to right itself."


Frank Osman
"After she got to a certain angle she exploded, broke in halves"
Q - What do you think those explosions were?
A - The boilers bursting.
Q - What makes you think that?
A - The cold water coming under the red-hot boilers caused the explosions.
Q - You reasoned that out?
A - Yes; but you could see the explosions by the smoke coming right up the funnels.
Q - Did you see any steam and smoke coming?
A - Yes.
Q - Did you see any sparks?
A - It was all black; looked like as if it was lumps of coal, and all that.
Q - Coming up through the funnels?
A - Through the funnels.
Q - That is, there was a great amount of black smoke coming up through the funnels just after this explosion?
A - Just after the explosion.
Q - And there were lumps of coat, etc, coming up?
A - Yes; pretty big lumps. I do not know what is was.
Q - Did any water come up?
A - I never seen no water; only the steam and very black smoke.


Fred Barrett
"When the ship was sinking a volume of smoke came up."


Philip Mock
"After the noise I saw a huge column of black smoke slightly lighter than the sky rising high into the sky and then flattening out at the top like a mushroom."



Titanicsinking.PNG



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Lyle

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The sinking of the USS Arizona on 7 December 1941 at Pearl Harbor shows a similar phenomenon. The magazine's detonation forced a huge cloud of soot up her stack from a rush of air.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Build a good, hot, glowing charcoal fire in your backyard BBQ. Get it good and hot, like the bed of coals in the furnaces of the boilers supplying steam to the electric dynamos that night. Now, exercising extreme caution to include gloves and eye protection, throw a bucket of cold water on your fire. Observe what happens. Think about the descriptions of the survivors. Class dismissed.

-- David G. Brown
 

Lyle

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Gee, I think I'll try that sometime. What a grate idea (pun intended).
 
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Rob Lawes

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Build a good, hot, glowing charcoal fire in your backyard BBQ. Get it good and hot, like the bed of coals in the furnaces of the boilers supplying steam to the electric dynamos that night. Now, exercising extreme caution to include gloves and eye protection, throw a bucket of cold water on your fire. Observe what happens. Think about the descriptions of the survivors. Class dismissed.

-- David G. Brown
This afternoon, having followed the instructions above, I attempted to re-create the scene in my back garden.

Now that the Fire Brigade have finished, I need to complete the insurance paperwork, locate the cat and pass the name David G Brown to my lawyer.

;)
 
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Rob -- It was supposed to be a thought experiment...

Seriously, I did not mean to try it...just imagine what would happen if hot coals were doused with cold water. Steam expands to about 1,100 times the volume of the original water, which would generate plenty of pressure to blow sparks and cinders up and out of the funnel.

But, don't try this experiment at home. It's for professional ship-sinkers only. :eek:

-- David G. Brown
 
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Harland Duzen

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Either way, while the lawsuit of David G. Brown VS Rob Lawes goes to court* Youtube examples and the USS Arizona (as mentioned previously) give us a suggestion of what happened. I know two are oil fires but it was the best examples I could find.


(Skip to 1:06)

(Watch between 1:50 and 2:05)

*That joke made my day. :)
 
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I can't believe I didn't think of this before. This is the most simple explanation to the coal and soot that shot out of the ship.
 
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A

Aaron_2016

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Has anyone been able to confirm exactly what was the cause for the shower of sparks that were seen emitting out of one or more of the funnels? Here is a steam tractor emitting a great amount of steam and sparks. Could something similar have occurred?


Skip to 1.10




Here are 5 survivor accounts that relate to the sparks, steam, and smoke.


Harold Bride
"Smoke and sparks were rushing out of her funnels. There must have been an explosion, but we heard none. We only saw a big stream of sparks."


Emily Hart
"She appeared to be breaking in halves.........For a few moments we could see everything that was happening, for, as the vessel sank, millions and millions of sparks flew up and lit everything around us, and in an instant the sea was alive with wreckage, with chairs, pillows, and rugs, benches, tables, cushions, and strangely enough, black with an enormous mass of coffee beans." (Note - she saw the ship break and she could see the floating debris when millions of sparks flew up and illuminated the surrounding area.)



breaking2aa.png




Charlotte Collyer
"It came with a deafening roar that stunned me. Something in the very bowels of the Titanic exploded and millions of sparks shot up to the sky, like rockets in a park on the night of a summer holiday. This red spurt was fan shaped as it went up, but the sparks descended in every direction in the shape of a fountain of fire. Two other explosions followed, dull and heavy, as if below the surface. The Titanic broke in two before my eyes."


Jack Thayer
"One of the funnels seemed to be lifted off and fell towards me about 15 yards away, with a mass of sparks and steam coming out of it. I saw the ship in a sort of a red glare, and it seemed to me that she broke in two just in front of the third funnel." "The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare, and stood out of the night as though she were on fire......The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks." (Note - He saw the mass/cloud of sparks, and the steam, and similar to Collyer's account, he saw the ship surrounded in a red glare as if she were on fire, which is when Emily Hart briefly saw the debris floating all around as the red glare brightly illuminated the surrounding area).



funnelsparks.png




Frank Osman
"After she got to a certain angle she exploded, broke in halves.....You could see the explosions by the smoke coming right up the funnels."
Q - Did you see any steam and smoke coming?
A - Yes.
Q - Did you see any sparks?
A - It was all black. Looked like as if it was lumps of coal, and all that.
Q - Coming up through the funnels?
A - Through the funnels. Just after the explosion. Pretty big lumps. I do not know what is was. I never seen no water; only the steam and very black smoke. (Note - Owing to his viewpoint behind the stern he possibly could not see the shower of sparks raining down, especially if he had his back to the ship, and when he turned and looked he instead saw a heavy shower of coal raining down and billowing black smoke. Possibly this is what Emly Hart saw when she described the scene as - "black with an enormous mass of coffee beans" - raining down like coal? They both could have been witnessing the same thing as the black substance rained down.)


After the second larger explosion the stern broke completely away, and some time later it eventually went down.

Frederick Clench
Q - How long a time would you say it was after the second explosion before she sank out of sight?
A - I should say a matter of about 20 minutes.



When the survivors arrived in New York the reporters spoke to them and published this summary of the sinking. We don't know which survivors they spoke to in the immediate rush to get the story printed, but it closely matches what the survivors above had all witnessed. e.g. steam, sparks, smoke, volcanic fountain of fire, and finally sank about 20 minutes later.


The Lexington Intelligencer

shiplexingtonintellingencer.png



Any ideas what caused the massive shower of sparks to rain down and illuminate the surrounding area, and what the black substance was that was seen landing close to the lifeboats? Whatever it was, it came out with incredible force.


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Kyle Naber

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I think there may have been a dust reaction within the funnel, or it was simply a result of metallic friction as it came down as the first.
 

Rancor

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Great video of the traction engine there. I think in that circumstance they are shovelling saw dust into the firebox to produce the effect on purpose to give a 'wow' factor for the show.

Regarding the sinking the theory I've heard that makes the most sense is a coal dust explosion. A rapid flooding of BR 4 or 3 would have produced a massive rush of air, some of which would have gone up the funnel. This would have carried any soot or dust with it, and an ignition source such as any fires still going in the boilers could have set it off.
 
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Rancor

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You can see a similar effect here as this vessel sinks, though without the soot igniting. Skip to 2:10.

 
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Aaron_2016

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Great video of the traction engine there. I think in that circumstance they are shovelling saw dust into the firebox to produce the effect on purpose to give a 'wow' factor for the show.

Regarding the sinking the theory I've heard that makes the most sense is a coal dust explosion. A rapid flooding of BR 4 or 3 would have produced a massive rush of air, some of which would have gone up the funnel. This would have carried any soot or dust with it, and an ignition source such as any fires still going in the boilers could have set it off.
Thanks, although would the coal dust ignite and remain lit long enough to produce a firey shower of bright red rain that was powerful enough to illuminate the surrounding area? It would need to be a terrific amount of coal dust and soot. Would the Titanic have accumilated enough during her maiden voyage to produce this effect? Philip Mock said - "After the noise I saw a huge column of black smoke slightly lighter than the sky, rising high into the sky, and then flattening out at the top like a mushroom." Could this mushroom cloud settle above the ship owing to the different layers of temperature in the air above the ship, and could the entire substance ignite like a hydrogen explosion above the ship which resulted in the cloud of sparks raining down over the lifeboats?

Frank Osman thought he saw huge lumps of coal raining down. I would gather he was judging the size of the lumps by the splashing sounds raining down around their lifeboat. There were reports of a recovered body that was covered in black soot and this body was misidentified as Colonel Astor's body. Although this soot could have been expelled when one of the other funnels submerged and could be unrelated to the explosive release of steam, sparks, and smoke shooting high above the ship and illuminating the area.


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Rancor

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Thanks, although would the coal dust ignite and remain lit long enough to produce a firey shower of bright red rain that was powerful enough to illuminate the surrounding area? It would need to be a terrific amount of coal dust and soot. Would the Titanic have accumilated enough during her maiden voyage to produce this effect? Philip Mock said - "After the noise I saw a huge column of black smoke slightly lighter than the sky, rising high into the sky, and then flattening out at the top like a mushroom." Could this mushroom cloud settle above the ship owing to the different layers of temperature in the air above the ship, and could the entire substance ignite like a hydrogen explosion above the ship which resulted in the cloud of sparks raining down over the lifeboats?

Frank Osman thought he saw huge lumps of coal raining down. I would gather he was judging the size of the lumps by the splashing sounds raining down around their lifeboat. There were reports of a recovered body that was covered in black soot and this body was misidentified as Colonel Astor's body. Although this soot could have been expelled when one of the other funnels submerged and could be unrelated to the explosive release of steam, sparks, and smoke shooting high above the ship and illuminating the area.


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All good questions Aaron, I have also wondered if enough dust would build up over the short lifespan of the ship.

I did find this video of a coal dust explosion in a mine. Seems to have a lot of similarities with what the survivors saw.

 
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Rancor

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Here is another video showing a coal dust explosion, effectively from a funnel, though horizontal. At night time these events would light up the surrounding area and would be very spectacular.

 
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Rancor

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And finally, if you will excuse the triple post, is this video here showing an explosion caused by one hard hat worth of coal dust suspended in the air.


I'd be pretty certain that at least one hard-hat worth of coal dust would have accumulated in the funnels, uptakes, fire tubes, combustion chambers and ash pits of BR 4 by the time of the sinking, or could have been blown up the funnels from the boiler room or coal bunkers themselves by the rush of air displaced by water from a collapsing bulkhead.
 
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coal eater

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boiler room 4 fires were extinguished and boiler room 4 was abandoned,there was no way boilers could cause smoke and sparks.

maybe boiler room 3 did flood with bolers still powered with steam and burning coal inside.
 

Kyle Naber

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I wonder if the funnel fell at the same moment of the break like in this animaiton:


If I recall correctly, Lightoller remembered seeing the second funnel being submerged by actually quite a bit but never saw its collapse.

Jack Thayer also describes the break and then the second funnel. "One of the funnels seemed to be lifted off and fell towards me about 15 yards away, with a mass of sparks and steam coming out of it. I saw the ship in a sort of a red glare, and it seemed to me that she broke in two just in front of the third funnel."

Possibly this could mean that the second funnel collapsed right in front of him as the ship had broken apart, and when the funnel wasn't a concern to him anymore, he noticed that the stern had broken off.

Could the tensions caused by the break have transferred sparks and debris up through the funnel?
 
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coal eater

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funnel 1 represents boler room 6 and 5 , funnel 2 represents boiler room 4 and 3 - you might be correct mr.Kyle, at time of break up br 3 was still used to provide steam for dynamos and when funnel collapsed water could easily flood the boiler room throught funnel shaft.. that means sparks,white/black smoke could emerge from there, but again boiler room 3 was not so huge and if any boiler exploded due to rapid flood throught funnel the explosion should bent shell platng around area of boiler room 3,maybe there was not eoungh pressure to actually make boiler explode,instead boiler just bursted steam,sparks,coal throught funnel vent/shaft into surface,maybe during break up there was more distant microfractures that smoke could access and emerge from area of break up aswell?
 

Kyle Naber

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funnel 1 represents boler room 6 and 5 , funnel 2 represents boiler room 4 and 3 - you might be correct mr.Kyle, at time of break up br 3 was still used to provide steam for dynamos and when funnel collapsed water could easily flood the boiler room throught funnel shaft.. that means sparks,white/black smoke could emerge from there, but again boiler room 3 was not so huge and if any boiler exploded due to rapid flood throught funnel the explosion should bent shell platng around area of boiler room 3,maybe there was not eoungh pressure to actually make boiler explode,instead boiler just bursted steam,sparks,coal throught funnel vent/shaft into surface,maybe during break up there was more distant microfractures that smoke could access and emerge from area of break up aswell?
I'm not proposing that a boiler exploded. I'm talking about coal dust inside the funnel. When there's dust particles in a space that are being put under a high amount of pressure (the ship sinking lower and lower) they can sometimes ignite, thus creating the flames and smoke that survivors saw coming out one of the funnels.
 
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