Encyclopedia Titanica


Philadelphia Inquirer

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But for This It Is Believed the Stricken Giant's
Cries for Help Would Have Been Heard in
Time to Save All


HALIFAX, N. S., April 18.--With two expeditions on the way to search for Titanic's dead, the Allan steamship Parisian crept through the fog to her dock here last night, hearing the first big authentic news known of the stupendous tragedy of the sea.

The great, glaring fact, as given by Donald Sutherland, the wireless operator of the Parisian, was his unqualified statement that the night of the disaster, judged from the position of the Parisian, which he estimates to have been about fifty miles southwest of the Titanic at the time she struck, the weather was remarkably clear. In all the course through the day no fog had been encountered.

But the saddest thing, it now appears, is that the lone wireless operator on the Allan Liner was off duty when the Titanic struck the iceberg, and that vessel did not receive the appeal of the Titanic's wireless for aid. If she had it now seems certain most of the Titanic's company could have been rescued. But it was not until some hours after the Titanic had sunk that Donald Sutherland heard the news from the Olympic and from the Carpathia.

Sutherland was at his post all day Sunday, trying to get assistance for the tank steamer Deutschland, which was disabled. He reported the ice fields in which the Titanic later foundered to several vessels that were spoken [to]. Finally, at 10 o'clock he was ordered to bed by Captain Hains, and the Parisian's wireless was not in commission when the great need came.

"The night was so clear," said Sutherland, "that the Parisian's lookout several times mistook stars on the horizon for ships' lights. You have seen beautifully clear winter nights when you went skating and it seemed just like day. It was just such a night. You could have played a game of football."

And what is more, Sutherland says that from his instrument through most of the evening he was sending out warnings to other ships as to the unusual condition of ice floes in the usual winter course of Atlantic travelers.

Warning for Titanic

All navigators agree that the condition was unusual, that constant northeasterly gales had driven ice hundreds of miles further south than is usually to be expected at this time of year.

Usually the greatest danger from derelict bergs is to be found in May and June, and even as late as July in the transatlantic avenue in which Titanic was passing.

Sutherland says that while he has no positive information, he is sure the warnings that he and other wireless operators sent out must have reached the Titanic. He said:

"On Sunday, the 14th, I was at my instrument until 10 o'clock at night. The Mesaba of the Atlantic Transport Line was ahead of us. The Californian was about fifty miles in our rear and the Titanic was following the Californian at a distance, I judge, of 75 to 100 miles. The Mesaba was passing me warning messages about the unusual icy condition of the course, and warned me of the presence of big bergs. I passed the information to the Californian. I sent this message repeatedly: 'Running into ice--very thick--and big bergs.' "

Hunting the Deutschland

"I assume, although I do not know, for I did not talk directly to the Titanic, that the Californian passed to the Titanic the messages I had sent and which I had myself previously received from the Mesaba.

"I left my instrument at exactly 10 o'clock. I was ordered to do so by Captain Hains because I had been up many hours in an effort to get a ship to go to the aid of the tank steamer Deutschland, which I had heard was in distress. The Deutschland had no wireless, so I could not get into direct communication with her, but our information was that she was pretty far to the south, and Captain Hains was heading in that direction as fast as he could go.

["]He wanted me to get on the wireless at 4 o'clock next morning and do what I could with the wireless to discover if possible what news was crossing the sea regarding the Deutschland. But next morning, when we were fifty miles further south of our course than the Parisian had ever gone before, our route being between Glasgow and Boston, with Halifax as a port of call, and we were on our way to Halifax, but of course had to dig southward to avoid the ice line, I got a wireless from the Asian stating that she had picked up the Deutschland, and so we came on to Halifax.

Ice Very Thick--Big Bergs

"I received a query on the night of the disaster from Captain Haddock, of the Olympic, the Titanic's sister ship, traveling east, as to the conditions of the ice, and I sent him the same message that I had relayed from the Mesaba to the Californian and that, of course, I believe was as promptly relayed to the Titanic: 'Running into ice--very thick--and big bergs.'

"I want to add," said Sutherland, who is about thirty years of age, "that I have been traveling on this course for seven years, and there has never been in my experience such a condition of the ice as we found on this voyage. The floes have come extraordinarily early and have spread way out of the usual run of what is known as the ice belt.

"Certainly the Titanic when struck was far south of what the chart defines as the 'ice line.' She was fully 75 to 100 miles south of it."

The report that the Parisian had picked up survivors of the Titanic and had then passed them to the Carpathia proved to be untrue.

"The first news of the disaster I got about 10 o'clock on Monday morning from the Carpathia," said Operator Sutherland. When he was asked just what this message from the Carpathia was the wireless operator replied that he could not reveal it. He said that it was confidential in nature and intended only for the ears of Captain Hains, of the Parisian.

Glisten Like Glass Palace

There had been a theory advanced that a berg of the size that could send the Titanic to destruction might on a clear night throw out of its own humidity so great a haze as to enmesh mariners in a fog for a mile or more. Sutherland was asked as to this out of his own experience. He said it was absurd, and exclaimed:

"Why, on a clear night you can see a berg away off by its glitter. They glisten like an illuminated glass palace."

Captain Hains, of the Parisian, asked to be excused from talking of the wireless message which reached him that had direct bearing on the disaster itself, but he said:

"There is no question that the course used at this time of the year was never so invaded by ice in the knowledge of even the most experienced seamen. It has been extraordinary. The truth is that northeasterly gales began very early last winter and were almost continuous. The result has been to drive the ice hundreds of miles further south than is usual. Moreover, in the swift drive of the great current from the north bergs shot off the turn that it takes off the Breton coast as mud might fly from a wheel, and these bergs by the score got into a course usually considered free of such dangerous impediments at this season of the year."

Operator Sutherland was the chum of Jack Phillips, the chief wireless operator of the Titanic, who is among the missing.

"Jack and I knew each other for years," Sutherland said. "He was born in Godalming, Surrey, England. He was only about thirty-six years old and wasn't married. It was a big post for so young a man--chief operator on the biggest ship in the world. I can't understand it--he must have got my messages, for he was the kind of a man that never failed in his job and would certainly be there at a time when the vessel was in danger--nearing ice under unusual conditions."

Ship's Scarred Career

The Parisian has herself a most remarkable history. She has been reclaimed from the bottom of Halifax Harbor. She went down at a wharf here eight years ago after her old Scotch captain, whom Captain Hains succeeded, had made a thrillingly heroic run from outside Chebueto Head, the Sandy Hook of Halifax Harbor, smack up against the dock with a ship crippled in a collision with the Albania. There were 200 passengers aboard the Parisian. No sooner had she been cleft to her wharf and all the passengers got off than the old captain shouted to the crew to leap for the wharf. The Parisian sank with the sailors leaping for the deck and the old Scotch captain standing on his bridge with a set jaw, not knowing whether the harbor waters were of sufficient depth to engulf his ship. The water came up to his knees as he stood on the bridge.


Encyclopedia Titanica (2009) PARISIAN'S WIRELESS EXPERT OFF DUTY WHEN TITANIC STRUCK BERG (Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday 19th April 1912, ref: #10050, published 22 April 2009, generated 19th October 2021 11:47:15 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/parisians-wireless-expert-off-duty-when-titanic-struck-berg.html