Mirage theory

Scott Mills

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Has anyone had a chance to read Tim Maltin's book, or happen to see this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/science/a-new-look-at-natures-role-in-the-titanics-sinking.html?pagewanted=all

Essentially he argues that the celestial alignment of the son, moon and Earth caused the bergs in the North Atlantic that April (a theory that isn't new to me).

More interestingly he argues that the coldness of the Labrador current, with warmer water below it, caused a "cold mirage" that may have muddled the horizon that night causing the "haze" reported by the lookouts. This, in conjunction with other factors like the calm sea, is what caused the berg to not be spotted until too late.

Maltin also argues that were it the Californian 10 miles from the Titanic--which is essentially what he does--he states that this mirage effect would distort the size of Titanic from the point of view from Californian, and tricked Titanic's officers into thinking Californian was half as close as she actually was. It is a very interesting set of suppositions!

I am not totally convinced that the "mystery ship" was the Californian. In fact, as many here have probably noted I'm highly skeptical that she actually was the ship seen from Titanic, but I really started reading about this aspect of the disaster recently and had no preconceived notions coming into the discussion. Having not read Matlin's book yet, this article makes me question my stance that Californian couldn't be said ship a bit.

In any case, so has anyone heard about this? What are your impressions of the science and the history if you have read the book?
 

Athlen

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I haven't read the book, but I saw a documentary on it. I did not like it.

First, there is throughout the supposition that the light seen by Titanic was Californian and vice versa. The documentary kept saying "which could only be the Californian." *Perhaps* the book does explore the possibility of a third ship, but the documentary does not, and without backing up the idea that Californian and Titanic really were close to each other by careful analysis of their navigational data *and* explaining away a third ship, you cannot just assume that the ships really were close to each other.

About the berg itself, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee's testimony, and the corroborated fact that they rang the crow's nest bell three times to warn for ice several minutes before the "iceberg, right ahead" call, do not support a mirage. Fleet testified to seeing a haze, but he said it was "nothing to talk about". Lee said the haze was more substantial, and both said it increased as the watch went on, but neither said it made it impossible to see. Also, Fleet says he saw the berg as "about as big as two ordinary tables put together." Showing it as a vast inescapable mass does not agree with that.

One aspect in particular really stood out to me, which was the idea that the mirage effect would distort a Morse lamp into an unintelligible twinkle, so that what Gibson (if I recall correctly) on Californian thought was a Morse lamp but could not understand was really Titanic's actual morse lamp. To simply things as much as I can, lights only twinkle when they're on. You could easily tell the difference between a *twinkling*, refracted light source and an intermittent light souce like a Morse lamp. Either watch the documentary and look for a flashing red light when he's talking about how twinkly the Las Vegas lights are, or look for an airplane or beacon atop a tall building or radio mast next time there's a hazy enough night that the stars twinkle. Reflection only affects light that's *there*. I think even a really incompetent seaman could tell the difference between a randomly twinking light and a Morse lamp flashing at about once or twice a second. Even if you could mistake a twinkle for a Morse lamp, you couldn't mistake a Morse lamp for a twinkle.

In general I felt that Maltin was trying to find evidence to support his theory and overlooking evidence against it, which is, unfortuately, a great way to make an interesting story but not a way to make a scientifically valid argument. Again, I will grant him that I have not read his book, and so it is possible that the TV producers are responsible for sensationalizing the evidence and leaving out the critical analysis... but I do not intend to buy and read the book in order to find out.
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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So, it came out a couple of weeks ago as an eBook? When does it come out as actual paperback? I've been looking on Amazon periodically, but don't see it. Usually, it is there, with a release date, but I didn't see that for this book. Would like to get a chance to read it to see what his theory is on refraction and how it affected visibility out there.
 

Tim Maltin

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Hi Jake and all, thank you for your interest. All my books, including A Very Deceiving Night, which has much more information and evidence on this subject than my film, can be found on Amazon here: Amazon.com: tim maltin: Books I do hope you enjoy it and I'd be pleased to hear your views when you have read it :)
 

Jake Peterson

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Cool. I see Amazon is having some issues with the layout of the pages. Will be sure to look for the hard cover soon! I don't have a kindle reader :(
 

Scott Mills

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Tim,

Well, since you are here, do you care to address Athlen's question about your assumption that the mystery ship could only be Californian? Do you have any new historical evidence in this regard? Or is this just an assumption you make while applying your theory?
 

Edinlake

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I Saw this documentary when it first premiered and I was completely impressed. I hadn't been that impressed with a Titanic documentary since Death of A Dream back in 1994. What I liked most was the overwhelming amount of evidence Maltin used to support his theory. I personally enjoyed hearing reports of ships sailing that area around the time that reported the high refraction that Maltin himself had already speculated. His work is incredible and I see him as the best Titanic historian to come along since Don Lynch. Just a remarkable documentary supported by pretty clear evidence.

I'm curious to know how other prominent Titanic historians view his work. Just superb all around.
 

Edinlake

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Hi Jake and all, thank you for your interest. All my books, including A Very Deceiving Night, which has much more information and evidence on this subject than my film, can be found on Amazon here: Amazon.com: tim maltin: Books I do hope you enjoy it and I'd be pleased to hear your views when you have read it :)
Hello Mr. Maltin. I had no idea you posted here but I would just like to take the time and say how much I appreciate your work. I have studied the Titanic religiously since I was seven years old, an obsession that has been going on for eighteen years now. I know you thought about this for years and it was incredible to see you finally get the results and answers you had been searching for over a long period of time. Just absolutely brilliant and I'd like to see this theory be proven as fact and accepted in this community. The only thing that wasn't explained however was the fact that the Californian reported seeing the distress rockets, however that was neglected in the documentary. Apart from that many of these theories I never even gave thought to, which is surprising because I always knew the Titanic rolled over to port after the breakup and was never vertical in the air with people falling over the railings striking various objects..Oh and the close barrier between the warmer waters and the freezing labrador current made me think so much. I see you as the best Titanic historian to come out since Don Lynch. Have you met him? And what does he think of your research?

Also I own Titanic Survivor Accounts and found that a good read as well but was a tad disappointed that there was so much effort into Gracie's book rather than more personal accounts from survivors not heard from often. But then I picked up Titanic Voices earlier this year which included many more unpublished accounts. Just great great work and I am happy that I am able to show my appreciation for what you have presented to the Titanic community. :)
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Tim.

I enjoy your ideas but your 'mirage' image depends on the Labrador current being present in the area. There is ample evidence to prove that it was not. This can be found by comparison between the evidence given my Captains Rostron,Lord and Moore regarding the relative positions of there vessels between 6am and 8am on the morning of April 15,1912.
However there is also evidence pointing to the presence of 4 vessels within 25 miles of Titanic when she was firing off those signals. I have posted the following elsewhere and referred to the information therein on several occasions, including my own books.

"If we read the evidence the officers on Californian and that of Titanic's passengers and crew but principally of 4th Officer Boxhall; there were 4 vessels in the vicinity at the time Titanic was firing off her signals. These were:

(1).. Californian.
(2).. The vessel stopped near to Californian whose masthead light was the same height as the signals seen by Californian's 2nd Officer. This was the vessel first seen by Captain Lord before 11pm showing 1 white and 1 green light and which stopped at about 11-30pm.
(3).. The vessel first seen by Californian's 3rd officer at 11-10pm approaching from the south for half an hour at a speed of about 12 knots while showing two white lights and a red light and finally stopping 6 miles away at 11-40pm
(4).. The vessel approaching Titanic end-on or nearly end- on while showing 2 white lights a green, then a green and red, then a red light and finally a single white light.

If number (2) had been Titanic, she would have shown Californian first a green light and a single white masthead light as well as a blaze of accommodation lights as she turned away to the south to avoid the iceberg. If as some people believe, Titanic turned North after hitting the berg (I don't) then watchers to the north westward would have first seen her broad-side on then as she turned toward them, her accommodation lights would disappear and the watchers would see her masthead light and her green an red side lights all together before the green light disappeared and only the white masthead light and red side light would be visible.
If, as I believe, Titanic was turned back to her original heading while Smith waited for the damage report, watchers to the northwestward would never have seen her red sidelight. It is therefore clear that vessel (1) could not have been Titanic.
Vessel (3) could not have been Titanic because that one was making 12 knots whereas Titanic was making over 22 knots. It also approached Californian from the wrong direction and at a very narrow angle for a period of 30 minutes.
Finally, and most important of all; vessel (4) could not have been Californian because Californian never showed a single white light (her stern light)to any of the vessels seen from her deck that night."

I have never had a strong rebuttal of any of the above.

There is something else I should perhaps remind you about.

There are two principal types of mirage at sea... Inferior and Superior.
Inferior mirage decreases the distance at which objects (ships, islands and mountains) are visible in a horizontal direction. It happens due to a rapid decrease in air density with height. i.e. cold air over warm sea. It also happens near to the coast.
The second, Superior, happens when there is an increase in density ( warm air over cold sea). In that case, an inverted image is seen over the real image. i.e. you see a ship and an upside down image of it directly above the original. The ship and it's image in this case are well defined and don't 'shimmer' as do mirages caused by an inferior mirage. If the Labrador current had been flowing that night, then the conditions prevailing would have caused an Superior mirage. I've seen such in high latitudes but never at night. If however such an image were to have been seen that night, the observer would have seen the normal lights of the vessel and the lights of it's upside down image. Something like this:
Mirages.jpg

Sorry for the poor sketch. I hope it illustrates my point.

Jim C.

Mirages.jpg
 

Jim Currie

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Ahtlene. You wrote:

"About the berg itself, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee's testimony, and the corroborated fact that they rang the crow's nest bell three times to warn for ice several minutes before the "iceberg, right ahead" call, do not support a mirage. Fleet testified to seeing a haze, but he said it was "nothing to talk about". Lee said the haze was more substantial, and both said it increased as the watch went on, but neither said it made it impossible to see. Also, Fleet says he saw the berg as "about as big as two ordinary tables put together." Showing it as a vast inescapable mass does not agree with that."

I'm sure you already know this but we should all be clear that Fleet rang the lookout bell 3 times in succession. Not 3 separate times because he didn't get an initial response but because 3 bells at 1 second intervals meant we can see something ahead.(usually between 22 degrees on either side of the bow).
The lookout signal was simply a direction indicator for the benefit of the Officer of The Watch on the bridge. It told him that he should look in a certain direction. i.e 1 bell look out to the left. 2 bells: look out to the right. 3 bells: look right ahead.
However, if you read the evidence carefully, you will discover that when a lookout was alarmed that his 3 bell signal had not been heard or taken notice of and his ship was in immediate danger, he would back-up his bells with an immediate follow-up call on the telephone to the bridge. That is the only time a lookout would use the phone except when the bridge wanted to pass urgent instructions to him. i.e. watch-out for 'small ice' and growlers.
There's an awful lot of nonsense written about what went on in the Crow's Nest that morning. The one thing every Californian conspiracy theorist neatly neglects is the absolute fact that the lookouts would have seen any ship within 12 miles of Titanic a few minutes before she hit that iceberg. There were 3 pairs of eyes scanning ahead of her all the time right up until then.. one of which was using binoculars.

You mention a haze. At the UK Inquiry the Lookouts contradicted each other about that. My best guess is that these lads saw the iceberg too late and felt guilty about not seeing it in time. I can easily understand the introduction of a haze into the story to soften the guilt. However, the fact that Titanic was on course at the time the helm order was given and she hit the iceberg about the same time it was fully applied proves that there was no way Murdoch could have avoided even a very small berg. Much has been made of Titanic turning 2 points during that helm application. That's rubbish! Or the Helmsman, Standby Helmsman, 4th Officer,the Leading Fireman and a Fireman in boiler room 6 were all talking nonsense.

This subject has been discussed ad nauseum but new approaches to the problem are always welcome. The last word will never be written.

Jim C.
 

Tim Maltin

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In 1992 this aspect of the tragedy was investigated by the Marine Accident Investigat

Ahtlene. You wrote:

"About the berg itself, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee's testimony, and the corroborated fact that they rang the crow's nest bell three times to warn for ice several minutes before the "iceberg, right ahead" call, do not support a mirage. Fleet testified to seeing a haze, but he said it was "nothing to talk about". Lee said the haze was more substantial, and both said it increased as the watch went on, but neither said it made it impossible to see. Also, Fleet says he saw the berg as "about as big as two ordinary tables put together." Showing it as a vast inescapable mass does not agree with that."

I'm sure you already know this but we should all be clear that Fleet rang the lookout bell 3 times in succession. Not 3 separate times because he didn't get an initial response but because 3 bells at 1 second intervals meant we can see something ahead.(usually between 22 degrees on either side of the bow).
The lookout signal was simply a direction indicator for the benefit of the Officer of The Watch on the bridge. It told him that he should look in a certain direction. i.e 1 bell look out to the left. 2 bells: look out to the right. 3 bells: look right ahead.
However, if you read the evidence carefully, you will discover that when a lookout was alarmed that his 3 bell signal had not been heard or taken notice of and his ship was in immediate danger, he would back-up his bells with an immediate follow-up call on the telephone to the bridge. That is the only time a lookout would use the phone except when the bridge wanted to pass urgent instructions to him. i.e. watch-out for 'small ice' and growlers.
There's an awful lot of nonsense written about what went on in the Crow's Nest that morning. The one thing every Californian conspiracy theorist neatly neglects is the absolute fact that the lookouts would have seen any ship within 12 miles of Titanic a few minutes before she hit that iceberg. There were 3 pairs of eyes scanning ahead of her all the time right up until then.. one of which was using binoculars.

You mention a haze. At the UK Inquiry the Lookouts contradicted each other about that. My best guess is that these lads saw the iceberg too late and felt guilty about not seeing it in time. I can easily understand the introduction of a haze into the story to soften the guilt. However, the fact that Titanic was on course at the time the helm order was given and she hit the iceberg about the same time it was fully applied proves that there was no way Murdoch could have avoided even a very small berg. Much has been made of Titanic turning 2 points during that helm application. That's rubbish! Or the Helmsman, Standby Helmsman, 4th Officer,the Leading Fireman and a Fireman in boiler room 6 were all talking nonsense.

This subject has been discussed ad nauseum but new approaches to the problem are always welcome. The last word will never be written.

Jim C.
In 1992 this aspect of the tragedy was investigated by the Marine Accident Investigation branch of the British Department of Transport. The two investigators could not agree on whether Californian was only about 5-7 miles away from the Titanic on the night of the disaster, or considerably further away due to abnormal refraction. Abnormal refraction is freak and deceptive visibility which occurs where cold and warm air masses meet, such as where the freezing Labrador Current in which Titanic sank meets the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream, which normally occupied Titanic’s crash site.

Many of Titanic’s passengers noticed the sudden drop in temperature as Titanic entered the freezing waters of the Labrador Current, from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. This sudden drop in temperature was recorded by Titanic’s most senior surviving officer, Second Officer Charles Lightoller. And after the disaster, when the Mackay Bennett was collecting dead bodies from the water in the area of the Titanic’s sinking, the highly-defined boundary between the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador Current was recorded.

By analysing the water temperature data from 100 ships which passed through the area where Titanic sank, from ten days before the accident to ten days after it, I was able to build a map showing exactly where the freezing water of the Labrador Current meandered through the much warmer waters of the Gulf Stream at Titanic’s crash site.

The air at Titanic’s crash site had been heated by the warm Gulf Stream, which had recently been replaced by the freezing Labrador Current flowing into this area and cooling the air column from the bottom up. This had the effect of trapping cold air below warmer air, an unusual state of the atmosphere known as a thermal inversion. In these conditions the colder, denser air near the sea surface acts as a lens, bending light sharply downwards, around the curvature of the earth, making it impossible to judge distances accurately, and causing unusual optical effects such as Fata Morgana or mirage; and Fata Bromosa or ‘fairy fog’, an apparent fog in the distance where no fog actually exists.

The first evidence that a thermal inversion existed at Titanic’s crash site was that her distress rockets, which actually exploded at a height of 600ft, appeared to rise to only about half the height of her masthead light, when seen from the nearby Californian. This was because the light bending abnormally downwards, around the curvature of the earth, made Titanic appear ‘higher up’ — and therefore nearer — than normal: a phenomenon known as ‘looming’; but her rockets, exploding in the warmer, normally refracting air high above Titanic, appeared at their normal height for their true distance of about 10 miles, and therefore much lower relative to the looming Titanic.

Because Titanic appeared ‘higher up’, but not bigger, she appeared to Californian to be a 400ft ship five miles away, instead of an 800ft ship 10 miles away. Tragically, because Californian knew Titanic to be the only ship within range which had radio, this led Californian to assume that the ship they were looking at did not have radio, because it did not appear to be the Titanic.

Other evidence that a thermal inversion was present at Titanic’s crash site was the smoke from the sinking liner, which hung in layers in the atmosphere, some only a few feet above the water, others much higher up. A heavily stratified atmosphere is a hallmark of thermal inversions because the cold air below is too dense to rise up and mix with the warmer air above, so smoke of various temperatures is trapped in layers in the atmosphere. This is known as a cap, which locks in weather conditions and often causes fog. In 1913 British scientist G.I.Taylor was sent to investigate the area where Titanic sank and recorded many fogs and thermal inversions, as well as photographing the flat-top smoke from his own ship, which similarly hung in layers in the highly stratified atmosphere.

But the air pressure at Titanic’s crash site the night she sank was too high for fog, at 1035mb it squeezed out all the water droplets from the air. This is one of the reasons Titanic was continuing at full speed, because before the Titanic disaster the danger of the ice region was the danger of fog, not ice: ice could be avoided in clear weather but not in fog, so Titanic was anxious to get through the ice region before the pressure changed and the fog came down.

The highly stratified air at Titanic’s crash site also caused extreme scintillation of Titanic’s and Californian’s electric lights, which appeared each to the other as flickering oil lamps, scrambling Titanic’s Morse lamp signals for help, as well as Californian’s Morse lamp signals to Titanic. Second Class Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley, the science master at Dulwich College, noticed from his lifeboat the very strange atmospheric conditions, and even noted that the stars flashed unusually that night in the keenly stratified air, as though flashing their own, unintelligible Morse lamp signals.

Captain Lord of the Californian should have gone to the aid of the nearby ship that night, but had it not been for abnormal refraction, he would have gone, because he would have realised it was the Titanic in distress, and not just some smaller vessel which apparently did not answer his Morse lamp enquiries.

So, could these conditions of unusual visibility which contributed to the Californian failing to come to Titanic’s aid have caused the disaster in the first place, by causing Titanic to see the iceberg too late?

To answer this question I researched the log books of ships in the area that night. I found that these reported ‘much refraction’ and ‘much refraction on horizon’ and ‘clear horizon with mirage’ and ‘luftspiegelung’, which means mirage in German.

These log book entries were referring to Fata Bromosa, sometimes known as ‘The Fairy Fog’. This was an apparent haze on the horizon which existed on completely clear nights, but was caused by the molecular scattering of light in the great depth of clear air which could be seen through in the miraging conditions, when cold air bends light abnormally downwards, around the curvature of the earth, revealing much more of the earth’s surface than can normally be seen.

As W Kelly noted in 1832 in his essay, “On the temperature, fogs and mirages of the river St. Lawrence”: “There was generally with the mirage an appearance of a fog bank on the horizon . . . . The air within the horizon was at the same time perfectly clear.”

And this unlocked the final mystery of why all the Officers and passengers had described the night Titanic sank as a perfectly clear night, but that several of the Lookouts had mentioned a clear night but with a slight haze around the horizon. The answer is that they were both correct: it was indeed a completely clear night, but there was also a refraction haze on the horizon. This is described rather well by Titanic’s lookouts:

Frederick Fleet: “There was a very slight haze on the horizon. It did not affect us, the haze — we could see just as well.”

Reginald Lee: “A clear, starry night overhead, but at the time of the accident there was a haze extending more or less round the horizon…It was a dark mass that came through that haze”

George Symons: “Pretty clear, Sir, a fine night, rather hazy; if anything a little hazy on the horizon, but nothing to speak of.”

And this testimony of Titanic’s Lookouts is echoed by Second Officer James Bisset of the rescue ship Carpathia, who described what he saw as he was looking towards Titanic’s crash site that night, even giving the correct cause of the hazy horizon: “Though visibility was good, the peculiar atmospheric conditions caused partly by the melting of the large ice field to our northwards in the waters of the Gulf Stream, made the sea and sky seem to blend into one another so that it was difficult to define the horizon.”

In order to avoid accusations of negligent navigation, Titanic’s most senior surviving officer later chose to deny the existence of this peculiar refraction haze, concentrating instead on the unusual and extreme clarity of the night: “We seemed to be able to see a long distance…We could see the stars setting down to the horizon.”

But Titanic Lookout Reginald Lee described the effect this strange haze had on their seeing the iceberg in time to avoid it: “A portion of the berg was above the haze. When I first saw the berg I could not see the lower part of it below the haze. If the whole berg had been covered with haze I would not have seen it so soon”.

Were it not for the Fata Bromosa or ‘fairy fog’ on the horizon, Titanic would have seen the iceberg in time to avoid it; and were it not for the unusually clear night, Titanic would have slowed down in a known ice region.

In short, the Titanic tragedy was caused by a mirage on the horizon, which camouflaged the iceberg in front of it, until it was too late.

Full details on this research can be found in ‘A Very Deceiving Night’, by Tim Maltin

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Tim Maltin

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Hello Mr. Maltin. I had no idea you posted here but I would just like to take the time and say how much I appreciate your work. I have studied the Titanic religiously since I was seven years old, an obsession that has been going on for eighteen years now. I know you thought about this for years and it was incredible to see you finally get the results and answers you had been searching for over a long period of time. Just absolutely brilliant and I'd like to see this theory be proven as fact and accepted in this community. The only thing that wasn't explained however was the fact that the Californian reported seeing the distress rockets, however that was neglected in the documentary. Apart from that many of these theories I never even gave thought to, which is surprising because I always knew the Titanic rolled over to port after the breakup and was never vertical in the air with people falling over the railings striking various objects..Oh and the close barrier between the warmer waters and the freezing labrador current made me think so much. I see you as the best Titanic historian to come out since Don Lynch. Have you met him? And what does he think of your research?

Also I own Titanic Survivor Accounts and found that a good read as well but was a tad disappointed that there was so much effort into Gracie's book rather than more personal accounts from survivors not heard from often. But then I picked up Titanic Voices earlier this year which included many more unpublished accounts. Just great great work and I am happy that I am able to show my appreciation for what you have presented to the Titanic community. :)
Hi and thank you very much indeed for your kind words. This will answer your questions about the rockets can be found by clicking on the following link:

Blog | Tim Maltin | Author, historian and TV presenter

I sincerely hope everyone interested in the Titanic will read the above blog. Thanks again and let's keep in touch here, Tim
 
M

Mila

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I have just filmed a video of the sea surface mirage. There is also a small miraged boat and some miraged birds in this video as well.

 

Bob_Read

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Has this Thermal Inversion Theory stood the test of time or has there been a comprehensive rebuttal like that given against Molony’s Coal Bunker Fire Theory?
 
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Scott Mills

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I had always assumed that the 'haze,' which was testified to, was actually the ice itself; however, for any number of reasons was not actually identified as ice until 40 or so seconds prior to the collision. Barring that, it came to mind that the ice may have been causing some atmospheric distortion at the level of the sea. It's odd to me really, given my general reluctance to take any of the crew testimony at face value, that I never considered that the haze was a fabrication to minimize the culpability of the lookouts themselves.