April 14, 1912: The Titanic Begins to Sink


Though the dreamy, doomed romance between Jack, Rose, and a door that was definitely big enough to fit the both of them is fictional, the "unsinkable" ship is a very real, very sad part of history, and it collided with the iceberg that would eventually lead to the deaths of over 1,500 people 108 years ago.

The ship was carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as many emigrants searching for a new life in the United States. The first-class portion of the ship was accommodated with a gym, a pool, restaurants and beautiful rooms. But the gorgeous chandeliers and staircases were of no help when what they truly needed was lifeboats, of which they only had about 20.

The world was shocked when news of the disaster spread, mostly because of the loss of life and the failures that lead to it. The wreckage was not discovered for more than 70 years, in 1985. Many artifacts have been recovered and displayed around the world. The final survivor of the disaster, who was only 2-months-old at the time, died in 2009.


The Titanic took off on April 10, 1912 and was intended to be the first of many on its path. The ship had 885 crew members on board, many of which were not full-time crew, but had only just come to work a few hours before the ship left. They signed up and were called to help out.

The Captain of the ship, Edward John Smith, was initially supposed to command the Olympic ship, but was transferred to take command of Titanic.

The crew was divided into 3 departments: 66 crew members on the deck, 325 crew members with the Engine, and 494 who were responsible for Victualling (food). The crew members weren't really familiar with the sea, but were engineers, firemen, or stewards. 97% of the crew was male, and there were only 23 female crew members, mainly stewardesses.

There were approximately 1,317 passengers on the ship, broken down into 324 in first class, 284 in second class, and 709 in third class. 66% were male, and 34% were female, and there were 107 children on board, mostly in third class. The ship could accommodate nearly double the amount of passengers. Many passengers had cancelled their travel plans because of a national coal strike.

The ship had many a prominent person on the boat, including millionaires, painters, writers, architects, authors, socialites, and journalists. (One of the prominent people is listed as a "wealthy divorcee" which seems to be a low bar of who they considered famous on the ship.)


For a few days, the voyage was going on without incident. The rich, who paid today's equivalent of $87,000 to be first-class, were enjoying a saltwater swimming pool, a steam room, massages, lavishly decorated rooms, and a fancy restaurant. If you have seen the Titanic movie, it was really similar. They were living large.

The third class had better accommodations than other ships, but still pretty bad. They were in "dormitories", without adequate food or toilets. They had their own dining rooms and public gathering areas, including deck space.

But at 11:40 PM on April 14, a lookout spotted an iceberg immediately ahead of the ship. First Officer William Murdoch ordered that the ship be steered around, and for engines to stop. But, it was too late. The side of the ship had already struck the iceberg, and a series of holes were created in the ship below the waterline. Water began to seep into the compartments. The ship began to sink.

Perhaps because the ship was marketed as being "unsinkable" (no, definitely because of that), everyone was ill-prepared as to what to do next. They didn't have enough lifeboats, and the crew hadn't been trained for evacuating the boat. Nobody knew how many people could safely board the lifeboats, so many of them were sent out half full. Women and children were evacuated first, and third-class passengers became trapped below the decks as the ship continued to fill with water.

The next few hours were chaos. Women and children were leaving their husbands and fathers in lifeboats that weren't full. Men were awaiting their death on the deck. Lower class passengers were stuck as water began to fill around them. People chose to hold their families or loved ones close, knowing they were going to die. The musicians played their instruments as the ship began to go down in attempt to calm the terrified passengers around them. The captain went down with the ship.

In the early hours of April 15, a few hours after the boat had struck the iceberg, the deck dipped underwater and began to sink more quickly. Around this time, the ship broke in half. One half began tilting, and then was essentially sitting straight up. The people who weren't able to grab hold of the railings slid down the ship, landing in 28 degree water if they didn't die from the blunt force of hitting various things on the way down. The people who were able to grab hold of the railings were dangling hundreds of feet above freezing water, unable to continue holding on but knowing they would die if they let go.

Besides the water being cold enough to freeze to death on its own, sudden immersion into freezing water can cause death within a few minutes, mostly from cardiac arrest from uncontrollable breathing or cold incapacitation. Once the ship split in 2, anyone who was unable to get into a lifeboat early on was left in the water. Most of them died of cardiac arrest within a half hour, and only 5 were helped onto lifeboats, even though there was space for a total of 500 more passengers.

Distress signals had been sent up, but none of the ships who responded were close enough to reach the ship before it sank.

About 710 people survived the disaster, while about 1,500 lost their lives, nearly all freezing to death in the 28 degree waters of the Atlantic ocean in mid-April. The survivors were transferred to the Carpathia and were taken to New York, where the Titanic was supposed to end up. The captain of the Carpathia described the area as an ice field, with 20 large ice bergs up to 200 feet high and numerous small ice bergs. Now, the area is known as "iceberg alley".


Jack Thayer

Jack was a 17-year-old high school student returning from a Paris trip with his parents. In the chaos, he was separated from his family and hung onto the rails with a passenger he had met named Milton. They decided to jump together, but Jack never saw Milton again. He landed in the frigid water, and was pulled underwater by the Titanic's second funnel. He was able to climb onto a lifeboat, which had ended up upside down. He watched as the Titanic began to sink entirely under the water.

He remembered the sounds of over 1,500 people screaming and crying, and hearing them begin to fade as they died. He remembered lifeboats not turning back around, saying it was "the most heartrendering part of the whole tragedy". He was reuinted with his mother on the rescue ship, but found out his father died. Jack went on to be quite successful, but after his son died in World War II, Jack committed suicide at the age of 51.

The Collyer Family

Charlotte Collyer got on the ship with her husband, Harvey, and their 8-year-old Marjorie. They were going to live in Idaho on a farm. When the ship struck the iceberg, Harvey investigated, but an officer told him there was no danger. Charlotte refused to get on the lifeboat without her husband, but when Marjorie was thrown on a boat, Harvey reassured her that he would get on another boat and she needed to go.

Charlotte and Marjorie survived but Harvey did not. Charlotte wrote to her mother-in-law to tell her that Harvey had died, and told her that everything they owned, and everything she had to remember him, had gone down with the ship.

Rhoda Abbott

Rhoda was a 3rd class passenger, returning to America with her 2 teen sons. They reached the lifeboat deck by climbing and swinging on ropes from already launched lifeboats. She was allowed to get into one of the boats, but because her sons were 13 and 16, they were considered men, and not children. She refused to get on without them.

In the final moments before the boat split, the family jumped from the deck. She lost her sons in the chaos, but managed to get into one of the lifeboats. She never recovered from her injuries from that night, or the lost of her sons, and died in 1946, alone.

There are so many more stories from the Titanic, some that will never get to be told. The stories of the band who played as the ship went down. The stories of the lower class passengers who drowned in the ship. The stories of the husbands and fathers who waved goodbye to their wives and children, knowing they'd never see them again. Of the 710 survivors, most of them lost someone. And all of them had to live the rest of their lives with the trauma of that night with them: The chaos, the freezing water, the sounds of people screaming for help and drowning and freezing to death.

The Titanic is memorialized through a brilliant movie, but it is important to remember that it is more than just a Hollywood film with beautiful actors: 1,500+ lost their lives in one of the most terrifying imaginable ways.

Like most preventable disasters, the Titanic lead to a lot of necessary changes on ships, including having the right amount of lifeboats, and the proper training on how to evacuate in the event of an emergency. And though it doesn't make the loss of those 1,500 better, it hopefully made it so it doesn't happen again.

On April 14, 1912, a ship full of people woke up: some to their luxurious, gold-encrusted suite with a pool, and some to their toilet-less dorm under water, but all alive, excited to eventually make it to their New York destination. But by the next day, most of them would be freezing in the Atlantic Ocean, the rest of them freezing on lifeboats, listening to the sounds of death all around them. It is one of the saddest, and most famous, disasters in history, and the iceberg that started it all was hit 108 years ago today.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic

2. https://www.biography.com/news/titanic-passenger-lists-facts-classes

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