CRIES IN THE NIGHT
Captain Arthur Rostron of the 13,600-ton Cunard liner Carpathia tried to contemplate the events that would unfold in the coming hours. Staring ahead into the darkness from the bridge, he wondered what he would find when they finally reached the Titanic. The last message recieved from the great liner had been grim. "Engine room getting flooded." Although they were under full speed, the Carpathia was still over forty miles away from the Titanic's last known distress position. How was the Carpathia to save the thousands in need of rescue?
Meanwhile, back at the site where the Titanic had disappeared under the sea, a horrific chorus of cries, screaming, and shouting drifted across the water. It is hard to imagine how those in the lifeboats felt at the time, but the sound must have been nightmarish. There were few, however, that made any attempt to form a rescue, fearing that they would be swamped by rowing into such a mass of dying people.
There were some, however, that did urge an attempt at rescue. The Countess of Rothes, her cousin Gladys Cherry, Seaman Thomas Jones and an American woman, located in lifeboat No. 8, wanted to return for those swimming in the water but were quickly overruled by the majority. "Ladies," Jones told the group, "if any of us are saved, remember I wanted to go back. I would rather drown with them than leave them."
Lifeboat No. 4, who had Quartermaster Perkis in charge, was the only boat to return to the scene. Five crewmen were soon pulled from the icy water but two died not much later.
Thirty men had climbed onto the overturned collapsible B, including Second Officer Lightoller. They paddled away from the remaining swimmers, fearing that they would swamp them. "Hold on to what you have, old boy. One more of you aboard would sink us all," one of the crewmen called to a man in the water. In a strong voice the swimmer called back, "All right boys. Good luck and God bless you." Several men would later claim that this swimmer had been Captain Smith himself. The swimmer then swam away for a short distance before becoming still.
Fifth Officer Lowe, in charge of lifeboat No. 14, had managed to round up a number of other boats. Locating lifeboats 10, 12 and collapsible B, he discovered that none of them had any officers. Taking charge, he ordered them to keep together explaining, "If there is a passing steamer they will see a large object like that on the water quicker than they would a small one."
Soon boat No. 4 joined the small flotilla and Lowe decided to distribute the passengers more evenly between the lifeboats and make one available to rescue those still in the water. As he began moving the passengers into other lifeboats, a shawled figure caught his eye; it seemed in too much of a hurry. He grabbed the figure and, ripping off the shawl, found himself staring at a man. Without saying anything, he tossed the stowaway into the empty bow of an adjacent boat.
When boat No. 14 was sufficiently empty, Lowe ordered the other boats to stay put and he, along with a small crew, rowed back toward the scene of the wreck. They quickly rescued three swimmers, William F. Hoyt, Steward Jack Stewart and a Chinese passenger. Later, as they continued thier search, they found Bath Attendant Harold Phillimore clutching to a piece of paneling. He later explained that he had jumped from the ship as it had started to plunge and had eventually found the paneling he was found on along with another man. His companion had grown steadily weaker until, muttering "What a night," he had rolled off into the water.
The sea was now a deathly quiet and it had only been an hour since the ship had sank. The ocean was littered with bodies and pieces of wreckage. Those aboard the lifeboats clung together against the frigid cold, praying quietly for rescue. Some speculated that it might be days, if ever, before they were spotted by a passing ship. One of the ship's stokers, however, was more optimistic. "The sea will be covered with ships tomorrow afternoon," he explained. "They will race up from all over the sea to find us."
Officer Lightoller, standing on collapsible B., soon discovered that Wireless Operator Harold Bride was also aboard. He asked Bride what ships were on their way to rescue them. Bride's reply was the Baltic, Olympic, and Carpathia.
Those aboard collapsible A. found themselves standing waist high in water and the icy ocean was quickly robbing them of much needed body heat. Several soon fell overboard, dead. Two who had died were thrown overboard in order to try and make the boat rise out of the water.
The Carpathia, meanwhile, was still racing towards the last known position of the Titanic, dodging icebergs as was necessary.
In lifeboat No. 13 someone pointed out that there was a faint glow coming from the southeast. A masthead light appeared on the horizon, then another, and soon a green running light was seen. There was no question that a big steamer was bearing down upon them, hard, firing rockets into the air as she came.
The ship soon slowed as it approached lifeboat No. 2. Fourth Officer Boxhall called up to the ship as it coasted towards him. "Shut down your engines and take us aboard," he cried up to the Carpathia's bridge. "I have only one sailor."
"All right," a voice replied from above. It was Captain Rostron.
The Carpathia was soon alongside the lifeboat, and a rope ladder was thrown down to the occupants. When Boxhall was aboard the ship he was escorted by Second Officer Bisset to the bridge. Rostron asked Boxhall if his ship had gone down, if only to confirm an obvious answer.
"Yes," Boxhall replied sadly. "She went down at about 2:30." He began explaining in detail what had happened when Rostron interrupted, "Were many people left on board when she sank?"
"Hundreds and hundreds! Perhaps a thousand! Perhaps more!" Boxhall cried with emotion. "My God, sir, they've gone down with her. They couldn't live in this icy cold water."
After a few moments Rostron finally replied, "Thank you, mister. Go below and get some coffee, and try to get warm."
The remaining lifeboats now began to row towards the Carpathia. To the east there was the faint glow of dawn. It was now past 4:00 am. Henry Sleeper Harper, who was in lifeboat No. 3, thought of how small the Carpathia looked, with its single funnel spewing black smoke into the morning sky, compared to the liner he had been aboard only a few hours before. However, she was the most beautiful sight had could ever have hoped to see.
The last boat to be rescued by the Carpathia was lifeboat No. 12 with Second Officer Lightoller in command. As the boat neared the ship, one wave, then another, broke over its bow. It seemed that she might flounder but was soon in the shelter of the Carpathia.
Many survivors now clinged to the rail of the Carpathia, scanning the sea in vain for furthur signs of life. Most were women who had parted with their husbands on board the Titanic and now hoped for a reunion. After the Carpathia's engines were started, Ruth Becker watched sadly as the women were led away from the rail and taken inside.
All in all, the Carpathia had rescued 705 people. A short ceremony was held on board for a prayer of thanks for those saved, and then a funeral service for the more than 1,500 people who had died.
The ship sailed away from the site at 8:50 am and left the Leyland liner Californian, which had arrived an hour earlier, to continue the search for possible survivors. None would be found.
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Copyright (c)1996 Gary Arnold