Lightoller and collapsible A


Apr 25, 2007
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Sunderland, Tyne & Waer
Hi all,

I have a jumble in my head and I hope someone on this site maybe able to help.

It revolves around lifeboat A, Murdoch and what Lightoller saw.
May I first say that I'm very much of the opinion that Lightoller is not half the “villain” that many seem to want to make him these days. I can however understand why some may disagree, but after reading his book and Titanic Voyager (Patrick Stenson) I can not make him as a dishonest man.

I know that Lightoller had written to Murdochs widow telling of how he saw him swallowed by the sea while trying to launch collapsible A, and that there has been some doubt cast upon it. There is one point however that has me thinking that he must have seen this very thing. The US inquiry has Lightoller make the statement that only 19 boats left Titanic with the last being lost. Why? Even Gracie mentions Lightollers belief in his book.

All I can think is that Lightoller did indeed see Murdoch from the roof of the officers quarters working to free A from the falls when the ship took the dive, leaving Lightoller believing that the boat had gone under with Murdoch.

I ask those much more educated on Titanic, Lightoller and his history, am I imaging this or could this be the case? He saw something but what? I don’t for a second think he just made it up. What did he see and why did he think the boat lost?

All the best

Michael
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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If you scroll thru some of the threads in the right hand column many of your questions have been covered in them. They answered better than I could on the subject. As for Lightoller's letter...if he did make some of it up I still can't blame the guy if he was trying to make Murdoch's widow feel better. That was between him and the widow.
 

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Moderator's observation:

The "right hand column" might or might not be present, depending on what device is being used and what settings are in place. I, for example, do not see it on my phone or my laptop, but have seen it on other machines.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Moderator's observation:

The "right hand column" might or might not be present, depending on what device is being used and what settings are in place. I, for example, do not see it on my phone or my laptop, but have seen it on other machines.
Never thought of that. I use my desktop and laptop here. Always shows up. But I know a lot of people only use their phones now. More power to them...I just can't use mine for the web..drives me batty. So I won't recommender the right hand column anymore. They can become thread hunters for whatever device they have. Cheers.
 
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Apr 25, 2007
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Sunderland, Tyne & Waer
Thankyou for the reply,

Sorry I used a fire tablet to post the above and it was doing its best to as unhelpful as it could. I've dug out the old laptop and now I'm finding lots of information I missed before posting the above.

Thankyou again.

Michael
 

Arun Vajpey

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I know that Lightoller had written to Murdochs widow telling of how he saw him swallowed by the sea while trying to launch collapsible A, and that there has been some doubt cast upon it.

I am not a Lightoller fan and not sure if/why he mentioned a lifeboat being lost in that letter. But he is not the only only one who said that Murdoch was knocked overboard while trying to launch Collapsible A.

Back in 1985 I met a respectable looking (and sounding) lady named Alice Braithwaite whose uncle, Clarence Woods, was a World War 1 POW in Germany with John Collins, former scullion on board the Titanic and a survivor. It seemed that during their time together as prisoners of war, Collins told Woods about his Titanic experience and survival in great detail. The two men kept in touch after the war and in the 1930s Collins visited Woods and met the latter's then teenaged niece Alice. During the course of the conversation the Titanic story was recounted. One important point here is that Collins said that he knew First Officer Murdoch by sight (not personally) because the latter was the only Scottish officer on the ship. This is entirely possible because John Collins was Irish and it was (and still is) a common tendency for non-English Brits (Scots, Welsh, Irish) to be aware of each other in a predominantly English crowd.

According to the story I was told, Collins helped a bit with loading of Lifeboat 16 where the Chief Officer (described as "the one next to the Captain") was in charge. He tried to but was not allowed to get into that Lifeboat. Later, along with another crew member (identity not known) he was trying to help a woman and her two small children (possibly Anna Palsson and two of her children; August Wennestrom had the other two with him) to reach Collapsible A when he saw Murdoch and others trying to free the lifeboat; but there was a rush of water that knocked the First Officer overboard. The same flooding washed Collins and the others off the deck and he lost contact with the child and everyone else that had been around with him. Collins surfaced, swam for a few minutes and was eventually pulled up on board the overturned Collapsible B.

Part of the above story was in Collins' testimony during the American Inquiry. But what was not in it (he was not asked the relevant question) but mentioned to Woods a few years later was that Collins appears to have seen the Officer shooting incident. From the way I was told about the incident, Collins did not say who the officer was that shot a couple of passengers and then turned the gun on himself. But that was at least a few minutes before he saw Murdoch knocked overboard while working on Collapsible A and so by inference, the mam who used the gun in anger was not Murdoch. That appears to tie-in with Lightoller's account of the incidents.

My meeting with Alice Braithwaite was a few months before the discovery of the Titanic wreck by Ballard's team. At the time my interest in the Titanic was marginal, but skyrocketed after the wreck was discovered and Walter Lord published The Night Lives On the following year. I was fascinated with the chapter "Shots in the Dark" and recalling my meeting with Mrs Braithwaite the previous year, tried to re-establish contact for more information. But the man through whom I met her, Mr Shepherd of Needwood Book Shop in Burton-on-Trent, only knew that she lived in London and we were unable to trace her ever again.

But I was interested enough to try and dig for more information. But I was very busy with my own medical profession and did not have much spare time for Titanic research. For almost a year I got diverted into a completely wrong track about a Titanic survivors' reunion dinner in Canada in 1939 at which John Collins met fellow survivors Elizabeth Mellinger, Madeline Mann & Emma Bliss. But as it turned out, this was John Samuel Collins, 20 years older than the scullion and part of the engineering crew; he was rescued on Lifeboat #1 (and might have had interesting stories of his own about the Duff-Gordons; just guessing).

I finally reached Mary McKee, scullion John Collins' daughter and both wrote and spoke to her on the phone. Mrs McKee said that she was quite young when her father died and did not know him well enough to remember his Titanic stories. But she had heard about the drama of his survival including the shooting incident from her older brother who was by then living in America. I wanted to follow-up that lead but work pressures in the early 1990s simply did not allow this and I eventually lost track of the whole thing.

Although I have mentioned my meeting with Mrs Braithwaite and the story about John Collins that sprung out of it in a few Titanic circles, I did not press the point because other than the meeting I had no evidence as such. But more recently I have heard that Titanic researchers like Bill Wormstedt and Inger Shiel might know more about the John Collins' story. I do not know the details.
 
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after reading his book and Titanic Voyager (Patrick Stenson) I can not make him as a dishonest man.

If you have read Lightoller's book you will have noticed how many errors there are. Simple things like the names of ships he worked aboard turn out to not exist. I am not saying he is a dishonest man and/or there was deliberate falsification, but he was certainly better at storytelling than he was with accuracy.

I know that Lightoller had written to Murdochs widow telling of how he saw him swallowed by the sea

Lightoller did not write that he "saw him swallowed by the sea." His actual words were: "At this moment the ship dived, and we were all in the water. Other reports as to the ending are absolutely false. Mr. Murdoch died like a man, doing his duty.” The reality is that Lightoller possibly saw Murdoch but he did not see how he died. And as Murdoch's body was never recovered any speculation about his death is exactly that - speculation. Suicide cannot be ruled out.

It is important to note Lightoller's phrase "I was practically the last man, and certainly the last officer, to see Mr. Murdoch. " As it is the exact same phrase used in his letter regarding the death of Dr Simpson: "I may say I was practically the last man to speak to Dr Simpson... " So I wonder how many letters he wrote consoling the loss of loved ones with this phrase?

I ask those much more educated on Titanic, Lightoller and his history, am I imaging this or could this be the case?

There have been many authors comment on this, in particular:

George Behe: " Lightoller was in no position to see Murdoch down on the starboard boat deck when the water rose to where Murdoch had been working beside Collapsible A. It therefore follows that Lightoller did not really *know* what happened to Murdoch after leaving the starboard roof of the officers’ quarters and moving amidships to where he eventually dove overboard. " (George Behe, First Officer Murdoch and the ‘Dalbeattie Defense’ ).

Paul Quinn: “Why was he standing over there when there was critical work to be done in getting collapsible B off?… What would have caused Lightoller to stop assisting with the port side collapsible on the roof, with so little time left, and instead walk around the funnel to the starboard side where there was no work to be done? Something drew Lightoller over to the starboard side…In the midst of the crowd, did Murdoch lift the gun to his head and fire?”” (Paul Quinn, Titanic at 2 A.M., p.77 )

Bill Wormstedt: “Did Lightoller tell the truth about William Murdoch’s death...? That is unknown, but Lightoller was known to have protected his job, and his fellow officer’s and employer’s reputations by ‘whitewashing’ his testimony in the disaster inquiries.” (Shots in the Dark )

Don Lynch: “Certainly Lightoller’s testimony [regarding Murdoch] can be discounted –he may well have been attempting to protect the reputation of a fellow White Star officer, as well as that of his employers.” (Illustrated History, p.195)
 

Arun Vajpey

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One possibility is that Lightoller's times might be a bit askew. Did he (himself) get onto the roof of the Officer's Quarters to free Collapsible B? If so, he might have briefly seen Murdoch working on Collapsible A at the same time. If this happened when at least parts of one or both boats were still on the roof, the port list would not have mattered.

While I'll accept that Lightoller might have fleetingly seen Murdoch working on Collapsible A, I think it was about 5 minutes or so earlier than he was trying to make out. I do not believe Lightoller's "I was practically the last man....." statement, which I think is a figure of speech; the word "practically" allows that ambiguity.
 
I think it was about 5 minutes or so earlier than he was trying to make out.

Although Lightoller is indeed an unreliable witness and writer, I'm not sure about such a discrepancy with the timing Arun. Firstly in his letter to Murdoch's widow he places it after working on collapsible B: "Having got my boat down off the top of the house, and there being no time to open it, I left it and ran across to the starboard side, still on top of the quarters. I was then practically looking down on your husband and his men."

And when we cross-check that with his US and British Inquiry testimony it fits - "I saw Mr. Murdoch there when finally I had finished the port side" (US Inquiry) and "Mr. Murdoch I saw practically at the actual moment that I went under water." (British Inquiry). Also at the Senate Inquiry he said he jumped from "practically amidships; a little to the starboard side, where I had got to."

So I am not sure there is any doubt about the timing/location. However, along with Lightoller being adamant the ship did not split in two, there were things he did simply not see and could not vouch for, but yet as a 'company man' made a statement nonetheless. But he simply did not see how Murdoch died, so ultimately his input is of limited value.
 

Arun Vajpey

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But he simply did not see how Murdoch died, so ultimately his input is of limited value.
I think we are singing from the same hymn book but perhaps reciting different chapters. I also do NOT believe that Lightoller actually saw Murdoch's final moments; at best he was guessing from what he might have seen of the First officer a few minutes earlier and then added a few embellishments in the correspondence.

But there are other non-verifiable (what is?) but persistent accounts from other survivors about Murdoch being knocked overboard in the frantic moments after Collapsible A floated free. As mentioned, I have spoken to sources related to John Collins, the scullion. Also, there were other victims who had at least some contact with Collapsible A but were unable to hold on; the Lindells for example. I cannot recall the source off the top of my head but it might be Wyn Craig Wade's Titanic; End of a Dream; I think it was Wennerstrom who said that at one stage both Lindells were actually in Collapsible A but were knocked overboard when Brown cut the falls and the lifeboat floated free.
 
Sep 6, 2019
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Phoenix
Lightoller could've easily done what he said, not sure why it's discounted so much. The lifeboats were gone with only B left. He was on top of the officer's quarters and after it was done he walked "practically amidships" and looked down on Murdoch at A. He didn't need to walk to too far, so it is very plausible.

Lightoller's story of what happened has very consistent throughout.
I think some people want to believe Lightoller lied to ease the grief of a grieving widow because it leaves the door open for a Murdoch suicide and Lightoller slams that door shut.

Also, there was no reason to write Ada Murdoch a letter unless he knew adamantly of what he saw. He didn't have to write her anything or just say (like with Wilde) I didn't see him.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Lightoller could've easily done what he said, not sure why it's discounted so much. The lifeboats were gone with only B left. He was on top of the officer's quarters and after it was done he walked "practically amidships" and looked down on Murdoch at A. He didn't need to walk to too far, so it is very plausible.

Once again, I agree that Lightoller could (and probably fleetingly did) see Murdoch working on Collapsible A when he (Lightoller) himself got on top of the officer's quarters to free Collapsible B. But the problem I am having is with Lightoller seeing Murdoch actually knocked overboard when Collapsible A floated free. That's because IMO Lightoller had got back down to boat deck level by then and was perhaps even in the water before getting onto the overturned Collapsible B. The reason I feel that way is because of the prevalent port list of the Titanic at the time.

The port side of the boat deck adjacent to the officer's quarters would have started flooding a few minutes before the corresponding part of the starboard side because of the list. They way I have formed a mental picture is that when Collapsible B fell off the roof of the officer's quarters and landed upside down, the boat deck was only partially flooded on the port side. That would mean that the corresponding part of the boat deck on the starboard side was still dry and Murdoch Moody, Brown etc were trying to drag the heavy Collapsible A into some sort of position for launching. That would be the last moment for Lightoller to have seen Murdoch because with Collapsible B already down on the boat deck (albeit upside down), he would have had no reason to remain on the roof and would have jumped down. After that, he would be busy with rest of the crew trying to float off the 'raft' formed by the capsized lifeboat etc.

That is why I feel that having seen Murdoch just after Collapsible B fell onto the boat deck and later with some hindsight, Lightoller assumed, almost certainly correctly, that Murdoch was knocked overboard while trying to launch Collapsible A. He might even have heard from John Collins about what happened to Murdoch. Collins was trying to help a woman and child - likely Anna Palsson and one of her 4 children - get into Collapsible A when he saw Murdoch knocked overboard. Collins failed in his rescue attempt and went under himself, but eventually managed to swim to the overturned Collapsible B. There is the possibility that at some later stage that night he informed Lightoller of Murdoch's fate.

So, when Lightoller told Mrs Murdoch that he 'saw' her husband knocked overboard, he was not exactly lying. He was either making an educated conjecture from his earlier sighting of the First Officer or slightly (and harmlessly) embellished what he had heard from a third party, most probably John Collins. Collins was in an unusual position in that AFAIK he was the only survivor in the vicinity of Collapsible A as it floated free but was rescued on the overturned Collapsible B.
 
Sep 6, 2019
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Once again, I agree that Lightoller could (and probably fleetingly did) see Murdoch working on Collapsible A when he (Lightoller) himself got on top of the officer's quarters to free Collapsible B. But the problem I am having is with Lightoller seeing Murdoch actually knocked overboard when Collapsible A floated free. That's because IMO Lightoller had got back down to boat deck level by then and was perhaps even in the water before getting onto the overturned Collapsible B. The reason I feel that way is because of the prevalent port list of the Titanic at the time.

The port side of the boat deck adjacent to the officer's quarters would have started flooding a few minutes before the corresponding part of the starboard side because of the list. They way I have formed a mental picture is that when Collapsible B fell off the roof of the officer's quarters and landed upside down, the boat deck was only partially flooded on the port side. That would mean that the corresponding part of the boat deck on the starboard side was still dry and Murdoch Moody, Brown etc were trying to drag the heavy Collapsible A into some sort of position for launching. That would be the last moment for Lightoller to have seen Murdoch because with Collapsible B already down on the boat deck (albeit upside down), he would have had no reason to remain on the roof and would have jumped down. After that, he would be busy with rest of the crew trying to float off the 'raft' formed by the capsized lifeboat etc.

That is why I feel that having seen Murdoch just after Collapsible B fell onto the boat deck and later with some hindsight, Lightoller assumed, almost certainly correctly, that Murdoch was knocked overboard while trying to launch Collapsible A. He might even have heard from John Collins about what happened to Murdoch. Collins was trying to help a woman and child - likely Anna Palsson and one of her 4 children - get into Collapsible A when he saw Murdoch knocked overboard. Collins failed in his rescue attempt and went under himself, but eventually managed to swim to the overturned Collapsible B. There is the possibility that at some later stage that night he informed Lightoller of Murdoch's fate.

So, when Lightoller told Mrs Murdoch that he 'saw' her husband knocked overboard, he was not exactly lying. He was either making an educated conjecture from his earlier sighting of the First Officer or slightly (and harmlessly) embellished what he had heard from a third party, most probably John Collins. Collins was in an unusual position in that AFAIK he was the only survivor in the vicinity of Collapsible A as it floated free but was rescued on the overturned Collapsible B.

When did Lightoller say he ever got down from the top of the officer's quarters? Anything he's every said points to he was still on top when the ship "took a dive and we were all in the water."
 

Arun Vajpey

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But did he specifically allude that he was still on that roof? Can you please point out in which work that was discussed? I am happy to be corrected on that point.
 
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He not only alluded to it, but on day one of the Senate inquiry, he flat out said it.

Senator SMITH.
From what point on the vessel did you leave it?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER.
On top of the officers' quarters
....

(Speaking of Murdoch)

Senator SMITH.
You went to the starboard side?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER.
On top; yes, sir.

Senator SMITH.
For the purpose of lowering this -

Mr. LIGHTOLLER.
I went over to see if I could assist.

Senator SMITH.
And you saw him there?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER.
I saw him there.
...
Senator SMITH.
Just describe that a little more fully. You were sucked down?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER.
I was sucked against the blower first of all. As I say, I was on top of the officers' quarters, and there was nothing more to be done. The ship then took a dive, and I turned face forward and also took a dive.

Senator SMITH.
From which side?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER.
From on top, practically midships; a little to the starboard side, where I had got to...


That was just day one.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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OK, thanks. I guess I had missed that part.

In that case, Lightoller must have seen Murdoch and the others struggling with Collapsible A on the starboard side of the officers' quarters. The only thing in his statement that I would question is the comment "from the starboard side, where I had got to...". With the significant port list, one would have thought it was easier to take a dive to the same side, which was flooding by then. It would also have brought Lightoller alongside the overturned Collapsible B, on which he was rescued.

But if his statement about "going over to assist" Murdoch and the others on the starboard side was true, then he could indeed have seen the latter knocked overboard. That is more or less what John Collins claimed he saw (albeit not in his testimony at the US inquiry; he was not asked about that) a few years later when a WW1 POW in Germany.
 

Aly Jones

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Lightoller's story of what happened has very consistent throughout.
I think some people want to believe Lightoller lied to ease the grief of a grieving widow because it leaves the door open for a Murdoch suicide and Lightoller slams that door shut.

Why is that so many refuse to believe that Murdoch never committed suicide? Why they want to believe, a highly well respected Scottish officer committed suicide on that night? Even when the facts are in the inquiries, plus, the wreck site proves lightoller's story that Murdoch worked up to the very end. The number one davit is hoisted up, in an up right position, waiting for one of those boats that got washed off the decks, Which Murdoch was working on.

Lightoller wrote in a letter, to a good friend of his, that he knows who committed suicide that night. With the evidence we have, and his own testimony, it was differently not Murdoch. Since we have no evidence on Wilde, none what so ever, they can't pin it on him either.

Last year, i did read lightollers letter in regards to who he knew committed suicide that night, but I seem I can not relate it.
 
Sep 6, 2019
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OK, thanks. I guess I had missed that part.

In that case, Lightoller must have seen Murdoch and the others struggling with Collapsible A on the starboard side of the officers' quarters. The only thing in his statement that I would question is the comment "from the starboard side, where I had got to...". With the significant port list, one would have thought it was easier to take a dive to the same side, which was flooding by then. It would also have brought Lightoller alongside the overturned Collapsible B, on which he was rescued.

But if his statement about "going over to assist" Murdoch and the others on the starboard side was true, then he could indeed have seen the latter knocked overboard. That is more or less what John Collins claimed he saw (albeit not in his testimony at the US inquiry; he was not asked about that) a few years later when a WW1 POW in Germany.

We're also only guessing what the port to list look like, there might not have been really any list to speak of.
 
Sep 6, 2019
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Why is that so many refuse to believe that Murdoch never committed suicide? Why they want to believe, a highly well respected Scottish officer committed suicide on that night? Even when the facts are in the inquiries, plus, the wreck site proves lightoller's story that Murdoch worked up to the very end. The number one davit is hoisted up, in an up right position, waiting for one of those boats that got washed off the decks, Which Murdoch was working on.

Lightoller wrote in a letter, to a good friend of his, that he knows who committed suicide that night. With the evidence we have, and his own testimony, it was differently not Murdoch. Since we have no evidence on Wilde, none what so ever, they can't pin it on him either.

Last year, i did read lightollers letter in regards to who he knew committed suicide that night, but I seem I can not relate it.

It adds more drama if an officer committed suicide. It's human nature.

Can youpost a link to the letter Lightoller wrote?
 

Arun Vajpey

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It adds more drama if an officer committed suicide. It's human nature.

That is why I feel that there is no reliable evidence that Murdoch committed suicide. I grant that an officer might have done so given the number of witness statements to that effect, but no one identified him as Murdoch. That has been the speculation of many who assume that Murdoch was suffering from some sort of 'guilt' due to the fact that he was the Officer on Watch during the collision, and so automatically conjecture that he must have shot himself. Even Walter Lord considered the possibility in his 1986 book The Night Lives On but by the time he was part of a live TV interview in 1989, he seemed to have changed his mind and felt that the officer involved was Wilde. But he did not elaborate the reasons for that consideration.

All the so-called officer suicide reports are patchy, some of them from survivors in boats that were nowhere near enough at the time. Even George Rheims infamous letter to his wife is not reliable; other than the rather dramatic undertones, he claims to have seen an officer ("That's what I call a man! :rolleyes: ) shot himself. Yet, in his deposition at the Limitation of Liability Hearing, he claimed to have heard 2 pistol shots 40 minutes before the Titanic sank (which more or less coincides with Lowe's claim that he fired 2 shots along the side of the ship just as his lifeboat #14 started to be lowered). Rheims further said that he jumped overboard and swam away from the Titanic some 15 minutes before the sinking.

On the other hand, there are at least two definitive survivor accounts specifying that Murdoch was knocked overboard during the chaos associated with Collapsible A floating free. First, there is Lightoller's reported sighting which I was uncertain of for some time till your information above about his statement at the US inquiry; second, my own research in the 1990s indicated that scullion John Collins saw it too. I have even spoken to Collins' daughter Mary McKee about that; admittedly, her information was sketchy but she was quite clear that she'd heard her father speaking to his son (Mary's older brother) about seeing the "Scots Officer" swept overboard as he (Collins) was trying to reach Collapsible A with a child in his arms.
 

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