The second mistake occurred in the possible misinterpretation of the distress rockets fired off by the Titanic. The California’s duty officers reported they saw rockets and they had awakened Captain Lord to tell him; he should have roused Evans to confirm the situation. In fact they all decided that the rockets simply were being fired off by another ship seeking to navigate its way through the ice. This may well have been the case: the Norwegian sealing vessel Samson, which had no radio, was firing off rockets as it weaved its way through the ice.
The principal witness testifying against Captain Lord was a second donkeyman in engineering (a junior supervisor), Ernest Gill, who hated Lord, and supplied his damning testimony after being paid nearly a year's salary by a journalist for his story. After giving his testimony he immediately disappeared from the scene and was never heard from again. The officers on the California may never have seen the rockets of the Titanic. On the other hand Captain Lord should never have dismissed the statements of his officers without pursuing the matter further.
In total, 1,503 people on the Titanic died, according to the British inquiry. The U.S. investigation pegged the number at 1,517; one reason for the discrepancy is that, at the time, officials counted passengers only after the ship reached its the final destination, to account for passenger changes at ports and stowaways.
The toll underlined the value of social standing at the time. Of 144 women in first class, only four died, and three of them because they refused to leave their husbands. Thirteen out of 93 women in second class died, but 76 out of 165 third-class women perished—many because they were not allowed on deck until all the lifeboats had left. Of children only one out of the 29 traveling in first or second class died, whereas 52 of 79 in third class, or steerage, died. Among male passengers on the White Star liner, one-third in first class perished, 92 percent in second class failed to survive and 84 percent in third class died.
Three-quarters of the almost 900 crew members, including Captain Smith, went down with the ship. When wives went to collect the paychecks of their dead husbands in Southampton, they discovered that the men's pay had ended when the Titanic sank, because under British maritime law the crew members were paid by the ship, not the steamship line.
Echo of the Titanic
“Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it,” is an old adage that suddenly has new meaning. On Friday, January 13, 2012, about 9:45 P.M., the Costa Concordia, more than twice the size of the Titanic, struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea just offshore of Giglio Island near the western coast of Italy. It suffered a hole some 160 feet long in its side and drifted back to Giglio, where the hull came to rest on its side. (Perhaps ironically, the owner of the Costa Concordia, Carnival Cruise Lines, had bought Cunard, which in turn had taken over White Star decades ago.)
Getting the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew off the ship as quickly as possible was imperative because the ship was in danger of shifting and sinking. Complicating matters was that none of the passengers had yet practiced lifeboat drills, which were scheduled for the next morning during the first full day at sea. During the remainder of the evening and night, all but 32 passengers were rescued; those who lost their lives were trapped in sections of the ship that rapidly filled with water as the ship lay on its side.
Captain Francesco Schettino was steering an unauthorized course too close to the dangerous shoreline for, by some accounts, the entertainment of crew members and passengers so that they could see some of the towns and villages that the crew called home. No radar, sonar or other advances in marine navigation can alleviate human stupidity. Fortunately, a catastrophe was narrowly averted by sheer luck: the ship got stuck on a rock instead of being in open water, where it would have sunk. Had it gone under, it could have created a disaster that would have dwarfed the calamity of the Titanic.