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

The Light That Failed
The Cunard liner Carpathia, sailing from New York City, was bound for Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. Her extensive passenger accommodations—providentially—were nearly half empty.

The Carpathia’s radio operator was H. T. Cottam. Cottam’s heart nearly missed a beat when out of the night came the dread letters of the international distress call: “. Come at once. We have struck a berg. Position 41.46 N., 50.14 W. !”

Cottam raced up to the bridge and breathlessly informed the officer of the watch, who in turn went to the captain’s cabin.

Capt. Arthur H. Rostron later wrote: “So incredible seemed the news that, having at once given orders to turn the ship, I got hold of the Marconi operator. ‘Are you sure it is the Titanic?’ I asked him. ‘Quite certain,’ he replied. ‘All right,’ I said then. ‘Tell him we are coming.’ ”

“We are coming as quickly as possible,” Cottam telegraphed, “and expect to be there within four hours.”

“TU OM” (“Thank you, old man”).

After that, Cottam switched off his transmitter. He was careful not to do anything that might interfere with the Titanic’s signals. Presently, however, he overheard her exchanges with the Mount Temple, and other ships—though all this time the Californian, which now lay less than 16 kilometers distant from the sinking liner, remained silent.

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