The tragedy enveloping the Titanic became worse when, as the first lifeboats were loaded, many passengers refused to board them, fearing the frigid North Atlantic more that the false warmth and comfort of their ship. In the end the lifeboats of the Titanic left the ship with nearly 500 fewer lives than they could have saved. Furthermore, the lifeboats that got away stayed away until after the ship had filled with enough water for her stern to soar into the heavens and the hull to split into two gigantic pieces before plunging two miles down to the ocean floor. The near-freezing water temperature meant that anyone thrown in had approximately 10 to 12 minutes before losing consciousness. The Titanic, which had side-swiped the iceberg at about 11:40 P.M., sank about 2:20 A.M. the next morning, April 15, 1912.
When the Carpathia arrived approximately 110 minutes later, Captain Rostron and his crew were able to rescue 711 souls out of the 2,201 that had been onboard. Eleven of those rescued were pulled from the ocean after having managed to climb on the overturned hulls of some of the collapsible lifeboats that landed upside down in the ocean. Among those rescued from the North Atlantic was the junior radio officer of the Titanic, Harold Bride, but his feet were horribly frostbitten. Two days later Bride would learn that the Carpathia’s radio operator, Harold T. Cottam, was near collapse after having been on duty for more than 30 hours. Bride had himself carried to the Carpathia’s radio room to replace Cottam and worked nonstop sending and receiving messages mostly from survivors and those hoping against hope to learn the fate of loved ones. Bride, who ultimately lost several toes, went on to an active career as a journalist.
A Two-Nation Investigation
Ismay, the White Star’s president, had been shown to a first-class private cabin as soon as he boarded the Carpathia and remained in seclusion on the rescue ship until it reached New York on April 18. He did send an order to New York to hold the next White Star liner scheduled to sail until he could board it and return to England. Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan was determined that Ismay would not escape so easily and rushed to New York to serve the British shipping magnate with legal papers demanding his attendance at a formal inquiry by the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce. Because many American lives had been lost, this request was not totally unreasonable, although technically, U.S. authorities had no jurisdiction because the Titanic was a British ship that had sunk in international waters.
Nevertheless, the Senate inquiry began on April 19 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and proved to be a very hostile proceeding for Ismay. Even the British government ultimately expressed its displeasure over the inquiry, and the British press was furious at the U.S. intervention. Ismay finally returned to England to face the formal British inquiry, which opened on May 2 in London's Scottish Drill Hall and lasted 36 days. The British inquiry thoroughly covered every aspect of the disaster, underlining the fact that although the White Star Line had honored the letter of the law in the number of lifeboats placed on the Titanic, the number was nowhere near sufficient. The Board of Trade regulations promptly changed, and White Star immediately added lifeboats on Titanic’s sister, the Olympic, increasing the number from 20 to 48.
The one officer who was vilified was not onboard either the Titanic or the Carpathia. Rather, it was Captain Stanley Lord of the Leyland liner California—which was stopped by ice some 10 to 20 miles from the Titanic—who failed to act.
The failure can be traced to two critical junctures. One was the decision of the California’s radio officer, Cyril Furmstone Evans, to go to bed after having been on duty for 16 hours. A counterpart on the Titanic, John George Phillips, had told him to “shut up” after he had nearly blown the earphones off Phillips’s head because the ships were so close to each other at the time.