The night of April 14, 1912, was clear and bitterly cold on the North Atlantic Ocean. There was no Moon, but the cloudless sky was full of stars. The sea was glassy calm, giving no indication of the danger lurking ahead. As a routine precaution, the lookout men up in the crow’s nest were warned to watch out for icebergs. Because it was such a clear night everyone thought there would be plenty of time to avoid any obstacles in the sea. But large ships at full speed do not turn quickly or easily, and when lookout Fredrick Fleet spotted an iceberg, at about 11:40 p.m., it was too late to avoid a collision. The Titanic struck the iceberg.
As the iceberg loomed into view, Fleet struck the crow’s-nest bell three times the accepted signal for danger ahead. At the same time, he telephoned the bridge to tell them what he saw.
Not all the crew who sailed the Titanic down from Belfast were hired for the ship’s maiden voyage. David Blair was one of the unlucky ones, and in his rush to pack and leave the ship, he came ashore with the keys to the crow’s nest telephone in his pocket.
Frederick Fleet, one of six lookouts on board the Titanic, was on watch in the crow’s nest, high up on the foremast. At about 11:40 p.m. he saw what he thought was a small iceberg, directly ahead. As the ship approached, he realized that the iceberg was considerably bigger than he originally thought. Quickly, he hit the warning bell.
Although severely damaged, the crow’s nest is clearly visible on the fallen foremast. From this vantage point, two lookouts kept watch around the clock for icebergs, ships, and other hazards.
“It was as though we went over about a thousand marbles.”
MRS. STUART J. WHITE, PASSENGER
ON THE BRIDGE
Although the bridge is the command headquarters of a ship, only four officers were on the Titanic’s bridge at the moment of impact. One other officer had just gone into the officers’ quarters, and Captain Smith was in his cabin, next to the wheelhouse. As three of these six officers subsequently lost their lives in the tragedy, it remains unclear exactly what happened in the vital seconds before and after the collision.
TOWER OF ICE
The Titanic struck the iceberg a glancing blow on the starboard (right) side of its hull and the damage appeared only slight. According to eyewitness accounts, the iceberg towered up to 100 ft (30 m) over the deck, but did little damage to the upper decks. However, below the waterline, and out of sight of the crew on the bridge, the iceberg punched a series of gashes and holes along 250 ft (76 m) of the hull.
FIRST OFFICER MURDOCH
William Murdoch was in charge of the bridge at the time of the impact. He ordered the change of direction and closed the watertight doors. Later Murdoch was told to call all the passengers up on deck ready for evacuation into the lifeboats.
AT THE WHEEL
Quartermaster Robert Hichens was at the wheel when the collision occurred. First Officer Murdoch ordered him to turn the wheel hard to starboard (right), swinging the bow to the port (left) of the iceberg. That was all Hichens had time to do.