Common sense and logicrefusal to get into a lifeboat

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I'm baffled by the refusal of some people to get into lifeboats at the beginning of the evacuation.

If you were in that situation and they were loading the lifeboats, wouldn't you feel that it was serious? The captain is loading the lifeboats and rowing AWAY from the ship. *That's* serious.

So, I guess the point of the thread is: In all of the movies everyone runs around saying "Everyone knows that this ship is unsinkable". Was that *really* the mindset of the passengers? Or was the refusal on the part of some to board lifeboats just arrogance/denial?
Jeremy: Check out the book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, And Why, by Amanda Ripley. There are quite a few works about the psychology of disaster now available, but this is by far the most accessible.

Your question can be answered from several different perspectives.

A) If you are told "There is no danger, this is a formality" and you see virtually NO sign of danger, why WOULD you choose to be among the first?

B) "Cover your ass" comes into play big time, particularly in cases where large numbers of passengers are lost. I've used this comparison before, and doubtlessly will again, but when the liner San Juan sank during the summer of 1929 IN LESS THAN TWO MINUTES, in the dead of night and with everyone asleep, the passengers had a better survival rate than those aboard the Titanic; a slowly sinking ship whose lifeboats left pathetically underfilled.

A common factor among shipwreck accounts, if you take the time to study ONLY first person accounts collected in the first week or so after the disaster, is the split between "The passengers would not cooperate" and "The crew failed miserably." The thing is, the passenger accounts tend to reenforce one another, while the crew accounts don't. That is to say, if a passegner witnessed something and wrote about it while the memories were still fresh, chances are good that you will find an identical account BY SOMEONE ELSE who witnessed it. ANd, these are people who did not know one another, did not communicate with one another, and were writing accounts not intended for public reading.

With the Lusitania, for instance, you have over two dozen accounts in which people who did not know one another described a "fat" crewman who came down the port boart deck and ordered the already loaded boats offloaded. Mr. Myers identified him as his bath steward. You have two dozen or more accounts of people who then stood by their lifeboats, growing progressively more angry, until in the last few minutes a couple of boats were "officially" reloaded and lowered, and several others were filled by passengers who climbed in hoping that they would break free as the ship sank. All details match.

Now, with the crew who were on the port side, what one finds are tales of panicking women, hysterical foreigners, and gallant struggles to push boats "uphill" against the list as time ran out. Thing is, they don't reenforce one another and they dont mesh, at all, with what the passengers saw.

This pattern repeats with the Vestris; the Morro Castle; the Andrea Doria, and The Yarmouth Castle. Invariably, in the split between "The passengers behaved illogically and then panicked" and "The crew failed miserably," the passengers fare better than the crew does in terms of mutually supported stories.
When the crew fails miserably it is usually a case of lack of, or poor, command and control, poor communications, and in some cases, crew members not knowing what their responsibilities really are and to whom in the given situation. In the case of the Doria, all this becomes very apparent when you study that case in depth. And on the Doria they even conducted lifeboat drills, if you want to call it that.
This doesn't seem very extraordinary. Who has the responsibility? The crew, who've probably never done it for real before, but will have to take the criticism / inquiry. So they'd note whatever hampered their ability to save others, or even use excuses to mitigate their anguish and/or culpability - because I'm sure they all felt anguish.

Passengers, however, had no power or responsibility, and could report just whatever they saw. Of course, that doesn't mean that their accounts were unbiased.
The ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 a few weeks ago is good example of what happens when you have a well trained crew who knew what their responsibilities were and executed accordingly. The survival of all was not by luck alone.

Who has the responsibility? Ultimately the commander onto who the safety and lives of all on board was entrusted.
And who do you need to be in charge in an emergency? One of these rare people, according to the latest research.

Training, I suppose, is society's attempt to make the rest of us behave rationally in the face of catastrophe. In years to come, I guess, it will become usual to screen people for their ability to stay relatively calm, but would that mean they always made the right decision? Maybe a better decision would be made by a natural-born panicker who'd been trained to conquer his/her instincts.

Science answers one question, and then raises another.
Monica, we're not talking about a panic situation with regard to what happened with Titanic, or the Doria for that matter. To a well trained flight crew the loss of engine power doesn't create a panic situation. They are trained very well to respond to that situation. Anyone who went through any flight training experience knows exactly what I'm saying.
>Passengers, however, had no power or responsibility, and could report just whatever they saw. Of course, that doesn't mean that their accounts were unbiased.

You are best off with things written in the first 24 hours or so. At that point, passengers AND crew are still too shocked to color their stories and you tend to get a fairly "unbiased" account. Case in point- one General Slocum survivor who freely admitted, on the afternoon of the fire, that she had survived by grabbing onto other women and keeping herself alfloat on them until they drowned. At which point she'd climb atop another woman. It wasn't a conscious decision, and she wasn't guilty of anything; that is what drowning people do. But, within a day, as she told her story again, that detail was omitted becasuse she had time to think about the deeper meaning of what she had done.

Monica- I think that while I was in London, we all talked briefly about my reservations regarding using ANY Titanic accounts as anything other than anecdotal history. Too much time elapsed between rescue and arrival on shore. The officers were not sequestered and immediately questioned. Women who lost their husbands, who might well have been angry were confronted upon arrival onshore by a two-country masturbatory salute to Anglo-American sacrifice and bravery (and if you read notes fired off by Lusitania widows in those first 24 hours, one gets a fair idea of how UNresigned and not "ennobled" the Titanic widows may have been) and it would have taken an exceptionally brave soul to say, in public or private, "his death was pointless and disgusting." BOTHS sets of hearings were pathetically "softball" and hundreds of questions that come to mind were never addressed, on top of which the imnportant witnesses in either case were allowed to mingle.

Have to run...TO BE CONTINUED
Myself, to answer the original question about getting into a lifeboat I'd probably stay on the ship at first. I wouldn't want to be lowered in some stupid boat to spend the night out in the frigid north Atlantic. Later on of course it would be different but I probably couldn't get into a boat by then.

I think this was in the mind of some of the male passengers that night. The Lady passengers of course probably went along the same line except if they had the opportunity later on in the night to get in a boat they probably did! Except a few unfortunates like Edith Evans!
Ah, Hello, George: You are describing something that experts have been 'coming around to' for the last twenty or so years.

The common belief that "panic kills" is being supplanted by knowledge of the odd fact that NEGATIVE panic kills MORE.

Basically, what that boils down to, is "objects at rest tend to remain that way."

Studies of disasters, and how survivors and victims behave, indicate that it is VERY difficult to jump-start an evacuation, and people tend to use up the time in which an effective escape can be made doing surprsingly trivial things. In most cases, people DONT stampede the exit~ they remain at their desk, shutting down their computer and gathering their personal effects or completing phone calls. World Trade Center survivors were interviewed for a government study and, surprisingly, the majority of those who survived did all of the above and more....the average survivor ended up starting down the stairs with an almost TEN MINUTE handicap. And that with a massive fire, burning jet fuel, and jumping office workers visible to everyone.

Placing one's self aboard the Titanic, where evidence of impending doom was nowhere near as obvious as it was in WTC, one can imagine that the inertia of "negative panic" must have been overwhelming. Warm, steady, brightly lit public rooms. Music. Assurances that everything was alright. Beesley, who wrote just about the only lucid account of the disaster, alludes to this phenomenon when he writes of the effect the rockets had upon the crowd.
Hello Jim,

The common belief that "panic kills" is being supplanted by knowledge of the odd fact that NEGATIVE panic kills MORE.
Isn't that the truth. Nothing worse then folks luring themselves into a false calm when they need to be moving or doing something!​
>The ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 a few weeks ago is good example of what happens when you have a well trained crew who knew what their responsibilities were and executed accordingly. The survival of all was not by luck alone.

Indeed. Compare that to the notorious 1970s ditching-at-sea which COULD have been another "miracle story" but wasn't.

My notes on this one are in NY, so I am writing from memory and shall stick with ONLY the details I am sure are correct.

A jet bound for the Dutch Antilles took off with a defective PA system, making direct communication between the cockpit and the passenger cabins impossible. Juliana Airport was fogged in, I believe, and the plane diverted to another island. However, en route it ran short of fuel, and attempted to make for the nearest airport that could handle a jet.

All fuel became exhausted at sea. Word was relayed to the passengers by the cabin staff. The captain told them that he would "signal" before impact, but did not give a time frame OR tell what the signal might be. As the plane came in for the ditch, the overhead signal lights (smoking/no smoking. Seatbelts) were flashed repeatedly. MOST recognised that as the signal, fastened their belts and assumed crash position. many others, however, did not. The ditch was a rare, smooth, perfectly executed one, just as in the Hudson. However, everyone not wearing belts was either killed or knocked out by being thrown towards the front of the cabin as the plane deaccelerated. Everyone unconscious had to be left behind as the plane began to sink. Other passengers, who did not know to bring their life vests, drowned while awaiting rescue.

The primary "villain" here was the disabled PA system, but the odd vagueness of directions relayed to the passengers was the direct cause of all the deaths. One wonders why the FASTEN YOUR BELTS order was not immediately enforced and why, given the time with which the crew had to work, the passengers were not told what the prepare to crash signal would be.

Back in 1965, a pair of jets collided over my hometown of Carmel NY. One miraculously managed to make it to NYC and land without fatality. The other crashed about ten miles SE of the collision site. It crashed into a mountain, yet somehow only three died. The captain, and flight crew, despite having only three or four minutes in which to work, successfully imparted to the passengers exactly what to do before, during, and after the crash. The plane ignited immediately upon touchdown, but everyone did exactly as instructed and, by the time the plane became inescapable (less than a minute and a half) all but three people had gotten clear. Sad to say, the heroic pilot died at the cockpit door where, apparently, he remained to hurry people along and got trapped in the smoke.

Once again, efficient communication in a truly ghastly situation in which one might logically expect panic, averted panic.
Hello, how are you? I don't find the passengers' reluctance to board the lifeboats early in the sinking all that baffling when you look at the accounts and circumstances at the time.

First, the crewmembers' statements at the time belayed any sense of urgency (many of the crewmembers themselves didn't know the ship was sinking yet), and the passengers were led to believe that boarding the lifeboats was just procedural, just a precaution, etc.

Then take into account that it was freezing cold outside, very loud initially from the steam blowing off, that the ship was not visibly damaged or listing significantly at the time, and that the ocean was dark and the lifeboats looked somewhat precarious, and it isn't hard to imagine why passengers were reluctant to board.

Afterall, why leave a by all appearances safe looking and popularly believed to be unsinkable ship in the dead of night for the uncertainty of a small boat on a freezing cold ocean, when the crew was playing down the danger at the time? Most people would not jump at the chance to do so.

All my best,
No, no Sam. I'm not talking about a panic situation either. I posted the article because it shows that some people - very few - have comparatively little instinct to panic for seemingly genetic reasons. For the rest of us, training is vital to reduce the instinct to panic, and to allow a rationale response to dangerous situations. These days, most crews are trained rigorously for this very eventuality, though one can recall some occasions a decade or two ago where the crew headed for the hills (well, distant shoreline) - leaving the passengers and the entertainers to do the business.

In the case of the Titanic, where training seems to have been a bit hit-and-miss, to put it kindly, then the crew would have had to rely on more personal resources to quell any instinct they had to panic. That so many managed to actually do this redounds to their credit; that they made some mistakes (to our 20:20 hindsight vision) in an age of verbal-only communications is hardly surprising.

Trevor Rommelley

Former Member
Didn't Jim Cameron note that the flexing of the lifeboat davit arms during a boat descent could have acted as a deterent to potential encumbents?
(Mind you, the davits used in the movie differed from the "real" 1912 ones so this may be a moot point)
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