When someone asks, “Why did the Titanic sink?” What usually comes to mind? The regular theories such as:
– the lookouts were asleep
– the ship was travelling too fast and the rudders were too small so it couldn’t turn fast enough
– the rivets and bolts on the ship were not tight enough
– the captain was drunk
but thinking further on this issue, these theories don’t seem plausible at all. At the time, the S.S. Titanic was the biggest, most luxurious moving object ever made. Only the best efforts were put into it – the best team to design and construct it, so the bolts could not have been loose; the rudders and propellers had to be capable of steering the 1/6 mile long ship, and were actually quite effective even at high speeds; the best crew had to be on board and operating this prestigious ship – Captain Smith, who was known as the “Millionaire’s Captain” and was highly popular, was in charge. He was the most experienced captain available and had a strict policy of never drinking on any voyage.
What about the lookouts? How did they not see a giant iceberg until the Titanic was just about to hit it? The night of April 14, 1912 was perfectly normal, beautiful and starry. Or was it?
Historian Tim Maltin has been studying the mystery of the Titanic for many years, and according to his travels and research from all over the world, the answer may not lie in human error at all, but with mother nature. Mr. Maltin has spent six years analysing old ship logs from over 75 vessels that travelled through the Atlantic that week. He discovered that on the fateful night, there was a unique set of weather conditions created from the cold water and the warm air that hid the iceberg from the view of the lookouts.
On the night of April 14, the Titanic had just entered an area of the ocean called the Labrador Current, which is a body of extremely cold water from the north that also brings all the icebergs down with it. As the icy temperatures from the water cool down the air in the warmer atmosphere above, this creates a fluctuation in the density of the air, and a mirage forms.
Much like seeing an illusion of a shimmering lake in the middle of a hot desert, the different densities of the atmosphere can distort our view in the sea as well. Light bends due to a phenomenon known as a “super refraction,” and this caused the horizon to seem higher than usual, rendering the outline of the iceberg completely invisible until the Titanic was upon it.
The lookouts had no way of spotting the iceberg until it was too late. The deadly mirage also caused the nearby ship, the S.S. Californian, to mistake the giant cruise liner as a small cargo steamer, and prevented them from seeing their distress signals as they were sinking. Thus, the other ship did not come to their rescue. It’s difficult to believe, but around 1500 lives were lost along with the great ship just because of the weather.
For a more detailed account of how and why the S.S. Titanic really sank, watch the new National Geographic documentary “Titanic: Case Closed.”