Question Did they know they would quickly die?


Mike D726

Member
I find it hard to envision this tragedy playing out as it did if those on the Titanic had truly known the danger of going into the water.
Indeed, there was hesitancy to get into the lifeboats (and as we have learned, hesitancy to load lifeboats immediately to capacity) for various reasons.
However, I ask if there is any evidence regarding the realization of those on board regarding the gravity of the situation.
Did they know they would be dead within an hour after being submerged?
Granted, it was an extremely frightening situation and they knew the water was frigid. But I wonder if the lifejackets gave them a sense of security, as in thinking they may simply float around in the waters -- maybe even for hours -- until being rescued sometime later. Apparently, some people even jumped from the Titanic vs. clinging on as long as they could.
Please discuss.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
Did they know they would be dead within an hour after being submerged?
Granted, it was an extremely frightening situation and they knew the water was frigid. But I wonder if the lifejackets gave them a sense of security, as in thinking they may simply float around in the waters
Interesting question and IMO the answer could have wide individual variations. Those were the days where ocean crossings by ship were common and so many crew members and some passengers probably had a good idea what it felt like being exposed to the elemnts and partially immersed in frigid waters. A few might have had previous experience of that while others would have heard about it. Despite that, there could have been a significant majority who probably had no idea what it would be like.

I suspect when life jackets became the norm for sea travel, there was some publicity about them and so most adults and older children would have known that they could float in the water without any effort while wearing them. Also, human nature being what it is, many would have hoped that they would be either pulled on board one of the lifeboats or perhaps a rescue ship would soon arrive. Although many people would have known that there was the risk of freezing to death, most would have pushed that thought to one corner and hoped to be rescued on time. In that sense, the life jackest could have given them a false sense of security, albeit for a short time. Once they were actually in the water and the extremeties started to go numb with cold, they would have realized that they would not last very long.

I believe that most would have lost consciousness after 20 minutes and be dead within 30 to 40 minutes. So, survivor stories about "swimming for hours" before being rescued are total nonsense, born either out of survivor guilt or media embellishment.
 
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Some probably did, many probably didn't.
We have a few instances of people knowing, they would; Andrews, Smith, some of the officers, etc.
We also have intelligent people for example Charles Hayes who stated that "This ship is good for another 10-12 hours."
So I'm certain that it was a mixed bag.
I'd say That within the last 1/2 hour the knowing that death was imminent, became unanimous.
 
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Arun Vajpey

Member
There is also the part of how the human mind works which is difficult to quantify and depends on the poetntial victims' perception of the situation. People in an out-of-control plane that's falling to the earth will certainly know that they're unlikely to survivve - like Japan Airlines 123 which flew for 32 minutes in a fugue pattern without any control surfaces before crashing into a mountain. Every adult on board would have thought that they would not survive but miraculously 4 of them did. In that instance, common sense would have told comprehending people that they would not be able to survive a fall from a great height.

But a ship on the sea presents a rather different picture and despite the frigid temperatures, the human mind tends to hope for possible survival scenarios as mentioned above. That's largely because they would not die right at the time of "impact" (in this case, jumping into the water) and so by inference, chances of survival appear greater, however unlikely in reality. If there is a straw to cling to, we invariably do it; very few people give-up prematurely.
 
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Some probably did, many probably didn't.
We have a few instances of people knowing, they would; Andrews, Smith, some of the officers, etc.
We also have intelligent people for example Charles Hayes who stated that "This ship is good for another 10-12 hours."
So I'm certain that it was a mixed bag.
I'd say That within the last 1/2 hour the knowing that death was imminent, became unanimous.
I would say that is probably the case for most. I'm sure those in the know would have spread the word about the water conditions to many. Not to be a bearer of bad news but to hold on as long as you can before going into the water. On the other hand some probably kept it to themselves which is understandable. You don't want to tell your wife and kids in 20 minutes you'll be frozen to death. At least I think most of us wouldn't.
 
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I think we may be putting the cart before the horse in this. The dangers of getting into an open boat out on the freezing North Atlantic in the middle of the night was understood well enough that a lot of people elected to remain with the ship...and hope for rescue in time...were very well understood. They knew they could be lost at sea and one way or the other, through storms or other elements, die of exposure, thirst, and/or starvation once the provisions were exhausted.

Lifeboats were and still are the last resort for just those reasons, with the preferred option being transferred to a rescue ship.

As to freezing IN the water, I don't think in that day and age that a lot of people had illusions about what that was all about. Not when accidents out on lakes and streams involving thin ice was an ever present reality.
 

Seumas

Member
I think we may be putting the cart before the horse in this. The dangers of getting into an open boat out on the freezing North Atlantic in the middle of the night was understood well enough that a lot of people elected to remain with the ship...and hope for rescue in time...were very well understood. They knew they could be lost at sea and one way or the other, through storms or other elements, die of exposure, thirst, and/or starvation once the provisions were exhausted.

Lifeboats were and still are the last resort for just those reasons, with the preferred option being transferred to a rescue ship.

As to freezing IN the water, I don't think in that day and age that a lot of people had illusions about what that was all about. Not when accidents out on lakes and streams involving thin ice was an ever present reality.
That happened to me when I was ten years old. Thankfully, lady luck smiled on me that night.

It was a winter night after a heavy snowfall, and I was showing off to my friends that the ice in a deeply waterlogged old woodpit was thick enough to walk on.

There was no ominous cracking noise like in the films, one moment I was high and dry, the next I was plunging right in. Oh, and I'm a non-swimmer !

The shock is incredible when your body goes in to freezing water, especially when you're not expecting it. The mind just seizes up, and you are blindly thrashing about, coughing up water and feeling around looking for something to grab onto. Luckily, with it being a woodpit I caught hold of a log and slowly hauled myself out. A most terrifying and chastening experience for a wee laddie.

It also certainly made a young Titanic enthusiast appreciate the suffering endured by those who ended up in the water during the night of April 14/15 1912.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
The dangers of getting into an open boat out on the freezing North Atlantic in the middle of the night was understood well enough that a lot of people elected to remain with the ship...and hope for rescue in time...were very well understood. They knew they could be lost at sea and one way or the other, through storms or other elements, die of exposure, thirst, and/or starvation once the provisions were exhausted.
The thing I would like to say about that is that by 1912 the perception of scenario you describe would have changed somewhat in most people's minds. They knew that radio messages existed and there was a better chance of rescue in busy shipping lanes.

If the Titanic had gone down very quickly with little or no time for disteress messages to be sent out, there was the chance that the survivors could be lost at sea. But most adults would have known that several distress calls were sent out during the relatively slow sinking process and would have imagined that several ships were rushing to the rescue of those who had made it to the lifeboats. There is also the "comfort in numbers" thing; with 20 lifeboats relatively close to each other, most people would gain courage especially as there were several crew survivors and availability of distress flares etc. As for supplies, they could probably have mananged for the best part of Monday by which time one would realistically expect one or two rescue vessels to arrive.
I don't think in that day and age that a lot of people had illusions about what that was all about. Not when accidents out on lakes and streams involving thin ice was an ever present reality.
True, but again as I said before, the human mind is funny thing. It is capable of assessing survival options surprisingly quickly in crisis situations and the resultant feelings would vary. If one is free-falling from a great height, he or she would know that survival chances were all but zero; the famous RAF Gunner Sergeant Alkemade would have testified to that. He fell 18,000 feet withut a parachute in 1944 and suffered only a mild sprained ankle due to miraculous circumstances but he never expected to do so. But when it is matter of jumping a few feet into icy waters, the potential victiom always hopes to be rescued somehow - in the Titanic's case to be pulled on board one of the lifeboats on the water.
 
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Mike D726

Member
It's very, very likely that word had spread that the Carpathia was on its way, but details about just when Titanic would founder and the Carpathia would arrive were unknown. Most who jumped were probably going to try to swim for a lifeboat, but all options were pretty much losing ones.
I remember reading somewhere that a survivor described the scene on the Titanic from a distance just before its final plunge, and that the passengers looked like "bees" swarming to the aft of the ship.
Our instinct is fight or flight. It was a terrifying night for them.
 

Seumas

Member
It's very, very likely that word had spread that the Carpathia was on its way, but details about just when Titanic would founder and the Carpathia would arrive were unknown. Most who jumped were probably going to try to swim for a lifeboat, but all options were pretty much losing ones.
I remember reading somewhere that a survivor described the scene on the Titanic from a distance just before its final plunge, and that the passengers looked like "bees" swarming to the aft of the ship.
Our instinct is fight or flight. It was a terrifying night for them.
It's very, very likely that word had spread that the Carpathia was on its way

Got a source for that ?

Apart from one or two of the senior surviving crew I've never come across anything like that and am quite sceptical that was the case.

I remember reading somewhere that a survivor described the scene on the Titanic from a distance just before its final plunge, and that the passengers looked like "bees" swarming to the aft of the ship.

Contrary to what has been portrayed in the films and TV dramatisations, both Paddy Dillon and Frank Prentice, who were both actually on the stern when the end came, said there was only about fifty to a hundred people gathered there.

Many newspaper journalists were notorious for tinkering with the reports survivors told them of the sinking. In truth it would have been very hard, in pitch darkness, for those in the boats to pick people out on the stern.
 
Jack Thayer in his 1932 account said "I saw the masses of people who had backed steadily toward the stern of the big ship as her nose slowly sank, fall into the ocean as the vessel went up on end and disappeared beneath the water." I guess it depends how one interprets "masses."
The bee's reference was mentioned in Charlotte Collyer's account of the sinking. Some say that was ghost written. I don't know if it was or not but there's some interesting things in it. Including a statement she heard one of the officers say they were going to load passengers from the lower decks into the boats as recently discussed in another thread. Cheers.
 
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Seumas

Member
Jack Thayer in his 1932 account said "I saw the masses of people who had backed steadily toward the stern of the big ship as her nose slowly sank, fall into the ocean as the vessel went up on end and disappeared beneath the water." I guess it depends how one interprets "masses."
The bee's reference was mentioned in Charlotte Collyer's account of the sinking. Some say that was ghost written. I don't know if it was or not but there's some interesting things in it. Including a statement she heard one of the officers say they were going to load passengers from the lower decks into the boats as recently discussed in another thread. Cheers.
Thayer was in the water fighting for his life, the lights were now dimly glowing red-orange. It's asking a lot to believe he could pick out those people on the stern as he said he could.

Thayer's accounts down the years also weren't free from the discrepancies that plague (and give us headaches today !) the likes of Lightoller, Bride, Rowe accounts.

Paddy Dillon's testimony matches quite well with what other survivors saw at various points during the night. Dillon claimed there were not many people on the stern at all. Prentice concurs with it. These men were on the stern when the end came, Thayer was not.

Have a look at this article by Dr Lee - http://www.paullee.com/titanic/upperdecks.php - and 2/3rds of the way down the page read the section titled "the poop". Our imaginations and famous the '58 and '97 films have pictured it all wrong.

Now with regard to Mrs Collyer, her account is one of the most notorious "blood and thunder" accounts. Some of it is just plain silly, like "East Lynne" on the high seas. Many historians of the disaster are wary of using it in their publications.

For example, she actually claimed that Fifth Officer Lowe was a moment away from shooting a man on the deck for trying to get into the boat but changed his mind when Mrs Collyer's daughter said “Oh. Mr Man, don’t shoot — please don’t shoot the poor man!”. Nobody else reported that ........ because it didn't happen.

She also falsely claims to have gone with Boat No. Fourteen when it returned for swimmers. Lowe and his men who testified were adamant that it when they went back, the boat had a scratch crew (a few ABs, a couple of stewards, a fireman and a male passenger) but no women or children were taken, having been transferred to other boats. Indeed, Lowe knew that taking the women and kids smack bang into a patch of sea filled with dead and dying was not a good idea.

The bit about Lowe not wanting to rescue Fang Lang because he was "a Jap" (actually Chinese) doesn't square with what is known about Lowe's character. According to Inger Shiel, (who knows everything there is to know about Lowe) Lowe in his correspondence wrote of his great regard for Asian mariners and would have been highly unlikely to have ever used such contemptible language.

In all likelihood, Mrs Collyer's original account got severely gingered up by an unscrupulous journalist but at the expense of the truth. Unfortunately it makes her account extremely problematic to work with.
 
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Arun Vajpey

Member
It's very, very likely that word had spread that the Carpathia was on its way, but details about just when Titanic would founder and the Carpathia would arrive were unknown.
I doubt that passenegers, or indeed most of the working crew would have specifically known about the Carpathia or any other potential rescue ship. But what they could have known - or guessed - is that distress messages had been sent out while the Titanic was sinking and one or more ships were on their way to help. Also, till about 02:05 am the Titanic's sinking process was gradual and so most would have hoped that it would remain afloat perhaps for another hour or two. It was only after the final plunge started that those still on-board and onlookers from lifeboats would have realized that the end was not far away.

The other issue is that sometime between 01:00 am and 01:15 am most adults on board would have realized that the Titanic was sinking but they (with a few exceptions like Andrews and Captain Smith) would not have known the timescale involved. But what everyone would have been abe to see as lifeboat after lifeboat was loaded and lowered (and fewer left on the ship) was that there were not enough boats for all personnel left on board. That explains the relative rush towards the end to find places in any lifeboat.

Many would have hoped that they could swim across to one of the already launched lifeboats or even hang-on to floating debris like deck chairs till help arrived. IMO, not many would have considered the effects of exposure to the freezing water, onset of hypothermia etc even if they had heard about such things. The human mind being what it is, they would have clung to any straw in the hope of being rescued.

But reality would have hit them - quite literally in many cases - once they were half-immersed in the frigid ocean. They would have relaized the effects of the numbing cold, difficulty of swimming to any boat and the very limited time available.

Perception of distances on an open sea with very few or no reference points can be misleading. To someone thrashing about in a lifejacket, what appears to be a lifeboat "nearby" can be significantly further away than they believe. I know this from personal experience; on a liveaboard dive trip in the West Papua region of Indonesia, six of us surfaced after the completion of a routine dive. The water was a comfortable 28*C, we were in wetsuits and it was broad daylight. The sea appeared to be calm but there was a very slight, almost imperceptible current taking us away from the yacht. The crew arrived in the pick-up dinghy (normal practice) and went about collecting the divers, with me left to last as I was the most expereinced of the lot. They had pulled-up 4 of us but had some problems with the fifth diver, a very large and very exhausted Yorkshireman. It took them almost 10 minutes to help get his gear off and haul him into the dinghy while I watched from the surface of the sea. As the current was slowly pulling me away from the dinghy, I decided to swim across while they were helping this other guy. It was then that I realized that the dingy was further away than I thought from my position (perhaps 70 or 80 metres) and even with fins it took me longer than I expected to reach it.
 

Jim Currie

Member
I find it hard to envision this tragedy playing out as it did if those on the Titanic had truly known the danger of going into the water.
Indeed, there was hesitancy to get into the lifeboats (and as we have learned, hesitancy to load lifeboats immediately to capacity) for various reasons.
However, I ask if there is any evidence regarding the realization of those on board regarding the gravity of the situation.
Did they know they would be dead within an hour after being submerged?
Granted, it was an extremely frightening situation and they knew the water was frigid. But I wonder if the lifejackets gave them a sense of security, as in thinking they may simply float around in the waters -- maybe even for hours -- until being rescued sometime later. Apparently, some people even jumped from the Titanic vs. clinging on as long as they could.
Please discuss.
Hello Mike.
I like your curiosity.

Moderns tend to envisage a problem from a modern point of view. In fact, it is only quite recently that we could talk glibly about hypothermia.
Back in the middle of the last century, and before that, the condition was only known to a few. However, all northern Europeans were very much aware of the cold. Consequently, the greatest fear would have been of drowning.
To aggravate that fear - the proportion of those who could swim would have been much smaller than it is today. Consequently, it is quite possible that some people considered lifejackets as mini-lifeboats which, in essence, a life jacket or as some call them, life preserver) really was, and still is.

The water does not have to be freezing for hypothermia to take over, but that is a slow process. On the other hand, the sudden immersion of a warm body into relatively cold water can cause havoc as no doubt our medical member will confirm.

Only when you stand in front of a firing squad, sit in an electric chair, or similar circumstances, are you pretty sure you are going to die.

As Alexander Pope wrote "Hope springs eternal in the human breast"
 
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Arun Vajpey

Member
Only when you stand in front of a firing squad, sit in an electric chair, or similar circumstances, are you pretty sure you are going to die.

As Alexander Pope wrote "Hope springs eternal in the human breast"
True. Probably true to a lesser extent for those other examples as well.

I am sure that a few of those standing in front of a firing squad hoped for a last second reprieve and those strapped to the "chair" hoped for the phone to ring just before the switch was pulled.
 
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