The Unsinkable Titanic

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, we dug into our archives for this remarkable account of the disaster and its aftermath. Plus: Titanic video clips of the survivors, the wreckage, and more.

Also in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2012

As the grinding noise died away, Captain Smith rushed onto the bridge from his cabin next to the wheelhouse. There were a few quick words: “Mr. Murdoch, what was that?”

“An iceberg, sir. I hard-astarboarded and reversed the engines, but she was too close. I couldn’t do any more.”

In the stateroom of the Titanic’s principal designer, Thomas Andrews, the impact was so slight it escaped his notice. A knock on the door drew his attention. A sailor summoned him to the bridge, where the captain told Andrews what had happened. Water in the forepeak … No. 1 hold … No. 2 hold … mail room … boiler room No. 6 … boiler room No. 5. Water four meters above keel level in the first ten minutes, everywhere except boiler room No. 5. Put together, the facts showed a 300-foot gash, with the first five compartments hopelessly flooded.

The conclusion was inescapable. The Titanic was on her way to the ocean floor, some 13,000 feet below. Andrews estimated the ship had but 90 minutes left.

At 12:05 a.m.—about 25 minutes after that grinding jar—Captain Smith ordered Chief Officer H. F. Wilde to uncover the lifeboats. The Titanic carried only 16 boats and four canvas collapsibles capable altogether of holding about 1,180 of the 2,200 or so aboard. The captain himself then walked to the wireless shack. “Send the call for assistance,” he ordered.

“What call should I send?” Jack Phillips asked.

“The regulation international call for help. Just that.”

Less than 10 miles away, the Californian wireless operator Cyril F. Evans had closed down his set at the scheduled hour of 11:30.

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