Titanic's sinking: Was it more than human folly

Apr 11, 2012 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
In this Aug. 17, 2005 file photo, a small boat makes its way through the icebergs in Disko Bay, Greenland. An entire century, two high-profile government investigations and countless books and movies have passed, yet we're still looking for and debating what really caused the Titanic to hit an iceberg and sink on that crystal-clear chilly night. Physicists Donald Olson and Russell Doescher at Texas State University said that a few months earlier, the moon, sun and Earth lined up in a way that adds extra pull on Earth's tides along with the Earth being its closest to the moon in 1,400 years. The unusual tides caused glaciers to calve icebergs off Greenland. Those southbound icebergs got stuck near Labrador and Newfoundland but then slowly moved south again, floating into the shipping currents just in time to greet the Titanic, the astronomers theorized. (AP Photo/John McConnico)

(AP) -- After an entire century that included two high-profile government investigations and countless books and movies, we're still debating what really caused the Titanic to hit an iceberg and sink on that crystal-clear chilly night.

Maybe there's more to blame than human folly and hubris. Maybe we can fault freak that caused a mirage or an even rarer that sent icebergs into . Those are two of the newer theories being proposed by a Titanic author and a team of astronomers.

But the effort to find natural causes that could have contributed to the sinking may also be a quest for an excuse - anything to avoid gazing critically into a mirror, say disaster experts and Titanic historians.

New theories and research are important "but at its most basic what happened is they failed to heed warnings and they hit the iceberg because they were going too fast," said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the .

With this week's 100th anniversary of Titanic's sinking, the interest in all things Titanic is steaming faster than the doomed on its maiden voyage.

One of the novel new theories says Titanic could have been the victim of a mirage that is similar to what people see in the desert. It's the brainchild of Tim Maltin, a historian who has written three books about Titanic. The latest, an e-book titled "A Very Deceiving Night" emphasizes how the atmosphere may have tricked the Titanic crew on a cloudless night.

"This was not avoidable human error," Maltin said in a telephone interview from London. "It's just about difference."

It was a beautiful clear night and for a couple of days, there had been something strange going on in the air over the North Atlantic, reported by all sorts of ships, including the crew on Titanic, Maltin said.

The unusually cold sea air caused light to bend abnormally downward, Maltin said. The Titanic's first officer, William McMaster Murdoch, saw what he described as a "haze on the horizon, and that iceberg came right out of the haze," Maltin said, quoting from the surviving second officer's testimony.

Other ships, including those rescuing survivors, reported similar strange visuals and had trouble navigating around the icebergs, he said.

British meteorologists later monitored the site for those freaky thermal inversions and said 60 percent of the time they checked, the inversions were present, Maltin said.

The same inversions could have made the Titanic's rescue rockets appear lower in the sky, giving a rescue ship the impression that the Titanic was smaller and farther away, Maltin said.

Physicists Donald Olson and Russell Doescher at Texas State University have another theory in Sky &Telescope magazine that fits nicely with Maltin's. Olson - who often comes up with astronomical quirks linked to historical events - said that a few months earlier, the moon, sun and Earth lined up in a way that added extra pull on Earth's tides. The Earth was closer to the moon than it had been in 1,400 years.

They based their work on historical and astronomical records and research in 1978 by a federal expert in tides.

The unusual tides caused glaciers to calve icebergs off Greenland. Those southbound icebergs got stuck near Labrador and Newfoundland but then slowly moved south again, floating into the shipping currents just in time to greet the Titanic, the astronomers theorized. Maltin said the icebergs also added a snaking river of super-cold water that magnified the mirage effect.

Tides and mirages may have happened, but blaming them for Titanic's sinking "misses the boat," said Lee Clarke, a Rutgers University disaster expert and author of the book "Worst Cases."

"The basic facts of Titanic are not in dispute: The boat was going too fast in dangerous waters," Clarke said. If Titanic had stopped for the night because of ice like the British steamship Californian did, "tides and mirages wouldn't have mattered."

On April 14, the day it hit the iceberg, the Titanic received seven heavy ice warnings, including one from the Californian less than an hour before the fateful collision. The message said: "We are stopped and surrounded by ice." Titanic sent back a message that said "Shut up. We are busy."

Clarke said people keep looking for additional causes "because if it's nature or God, then we're off the hook, morally and practically."

Yale disaster expert Charles Perrow said he found the mirage theory plausible, especially because cold air played visual tricks that were a factor in a 1979 airplane crash in Antarctica that was originally blamed on pilot error.

Steven Biel, who wrote "Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Disaster," said he understands the search for other reasons.

"There's something appealing about retrospectively gaining control over an event that's centrally about uncertainty and contingency and lack of control," he said.

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julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2012
The fact is that the Titanic should not have sunk. Meaning every detaiul of the incident, thrown in to present it as an unprecedented confluence of bad luck, appealing to those who view everything solely viscerally as a cautionary tale, not a genuine suspicious event. No seaman underestimates the potential for problems, or acts arrogantly or fails to respond to even the possibility another might be in trouble. The lack of lifeboats is incompatible with what any legitimate shipbuilding firm would produce! To the point of being non credible and a suspicious facet! Too, they would not venture near where was any possibility of ice. And they surely knew that, if they saw ice on top of the water, much more was underneath. And the California would not just sit there, thinking the distress rockets were only party decorations! They would at least have tried contacting them! In fact, the fate of the Titanic seems deliberately engineered!
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2012
Well I agree with you but I just had to give you a 1 for past effluence. Plus your post is not very readable. This is impolite.

The perception that this event was not an accident can be enhanced by examining the RESULTS of it. It happened at a time when the potential for the military use of air travel was being fully realized. This potential could not be fully exploited without developing a thriving commercial air travel industry which would provide an economic and technological base broad enough to support it.

The prospect of flying clear across the atlantic in rickety planes was obviously a lot scarier than travel by ship. The titanic disaster instantly changed this paradigm. By the beginning of ww2 the technology had advanced to the point where kilotons of men and material could be flown around the world; and tons of explosives dropped on cities.

The thriving commercial air travel industry alone made this possible. Alternatives - ships and zeppelins - were ruthlessly discredited.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Apr 11, 2012
-Plus the recent revelation that the ship could possibly have been steered into the berg on purpose:
http://thelede.bl...titanic/

In the context of the times... How can anyone study events like the great african land grab, when most euro countries were engaged in a mad ruinous rush to secure the strategic resources in africa by enslaving and murdering thousands... not think that sinking a few ships (titanic, lusitania), destroying a few zeppelins (hindenburg, akron, macon) or sinking a few battleships (pearl harbor, the Hood, the Bismark) in order to foster the development of what has become the single most effective weapons technology produced since perhaps the firearm, was possible?

That there were not People powerful enough and ruthless enough and PRACTICAL enough, to Engineer such Events, when the very real danger that others could have done this first and thereby critically endangered civilization?
kaasinees
0 / 5 (21) Apr 11, 2012
I really cant feel that bad for a couple of rich people drowning.
Same as that luxury ship that sank a few months ago.

No sympathy at all.
And the starving people in other countries feel the same way.
ROBTHEGOB
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
Titanic sank because of the arrogance of her owners believing that the ship was unsinkable. The fact that so many people died was a result of the prevalent attitude that only the rich mattered, so there were not enough lifeboats provided. But the owners actually believed the Titanic was unsinkable.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
The story about the White Star Line thinking the Titanic was unsinkable seems just another facet added to the "official story" to explain away the truth. The traditions of sea travel include not assuming there necessarily is no danger. Accusing the White Star Line having the "prevalent attitude that only the rich mattered" seems ROBTHEGOB's contribution to the general lie to make it fit. And the Californian sitting watching Titanic shoot off distress flares and doing nothing, thinking they were "party decorations" is utterly no credible. No ship at see takes it for granted others necessarily don't need assistance. And, if they had the "prevalent attitude that only the rich mattered", they would rush in to save them!
kochevnik
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2012
I really cant feel that bad for a couple of rich people drowning.
Those were the rich people opposed to the Federal Reserve and the Zionist ponzi-scheme loansharking system now in place. That among other things led to the economic devastation of post-colonial Africa and the destruction of the WTC towers due to Mossad running amok.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
kaasinees
0.3 / 5 (22) Apr 12, 2012
I would like some form of evidence for that.
Bigbobswinden
not rated yet Apr 12, 2012
I recently watched a film on the net that claimed that the Titanic was swapped with the Olympic. It answered every question of this mystery. It was of course money at the bottom of the scam.

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