They rang the warning bell three times and immediately phoned the bridge.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Iceberg, right ahead!"
These forever-famous words were spoken by Frederick Fleet, one of the lookouts in the crow’s nest on the 'Titanic' on Sunday night, April 14, 1912, to William Murdoch who was the officer on duty that fateful night on the ship's bridge.
Fleet and his buddy Reginald Lee spotted the iceberg at 11:39 pm and less than a minute later the 'Titanic' stuck the ice mass that resulted in the greatest sea disaster of all time, especially in times of peace.
It's easy to look back now and ask 'what if!'
What if Fleet and Lee had been supplied with binoculars that night? What if Murdoch had ordered the ship full speed ahead instead of reversing the engines as, apparently, the'Titantic' would have turned quicker the faster her forward motion?
What if Murdoch had just stopped the engines allowing the ship to strike the iceberg head on? Would all the so-called watertight compartments have been flooded or would the damage have been less severe and the ship would have stayed afloat?
It's easy to speculate about all that now. One should remember that Murdoch only had a few seconds to make up his mind and that he gave the orders that most ship officers would have given in that situation. Whatever the case, he broke the cardinal rule of shipping and exposed the Titanic's broadside to danger. About two hours later the so-called 'unsinkable' ship had disappeared beneath the surface of the Atlantic with the loss of more than 1500 lives.
If anyone is to take the blame for the disaster it has to be Captain Edward Smith who was in his berth when the impact between ship and iceberg occurred. Captain Smith had been warned by nearby ships at least six times on April 14 that he was travelling in waters with plenty of icebergs and that he should slow down at night. Captain Smith, for all his experience, believed the hype about the famous White Star liner and that 'naught could sink her, not even God's own hand'.
Her watertight compartments they said would prevent water from flooding the entire ship in the unlikely chance there would be some disaster. The ‘Titanic’ is ‘unsinkable’ they said so often that everyone believed it.
However, the watertight compartments did not go all the way to the top, as this would have infringed on the space available for passengers. When the first five compartments flooded, the water just spilled into the next and so on and so on until there was no stopping the disaster.
So, why are people, 100 years later, still fascinated with the 'Titanic' disaster? The events that night have been the subject of movies, books, TV-shows, ballads and countless articles and debates. It goes on to this very day and 100 years from now the story will still be told and read about by people all over the world. Children will still be reading about the most famous liner of her era that left Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York City and struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.
Death is news of course and when it happens on a massive scale like that on the night of April 14 - 15, 1912 it's fantastic news indeed, news that will probably be of interest forever. People may be interested because the story will be forever a reminder to mere humans that we will never, will never, build anything more powerful than nature, that nature can always destroy what people may create. Any maybe it's still of interest just because people love disaster stories especially those involving millionaires, industrialists, politicians, artists and famous creations like the 'Titanic" – a disaster that was not supposed to happen but did.
Of course, the 'Titanic' story goes beyond the loss of life at sea. Most of the people who died that night were third class passengers who, in some cases, were not allowed to get into lifeboats reserved for first class passengers. It's really sad to know that a number of the lifeboats launched that night contained less than half, in some cases, of the number of people they could have carried. The disaster was the beginning of the end of some of the old class structure in England, which would come to an end forever two years later with the beginning of World War One.
And what did we learn from the 'Titanic' disaster?
More safety measures were put in place for passenger ships after the event such as more lifeboats on vessels to accommodate all passengers and crew. One of the key safety measures that resulted from the event was the creation of the International Ice Patrol in 1913 to warn transatlantic shipping of icebergs in their vicinity.
So, maybe the people who died in the disaster did not die in vain as those safety measures, and others, have saved many lives of people travelling on the oceans since 1912.
But, no matter what precautions we take, disasters will always be a part of our lives as long as we're on the planet and they'll be fascinating stories forever.