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Man’s technological hubris hits an iceberg and sinks, literally, as the RMS Titanic founders on its maiden voyage.
The liner, in many ways state of the art for the day and trumpeted by her owners, the press and others as "practically unsinkable," struck an iceberg south of the Grand Banks and went down in 2 hours, 40 minutes, taking more than 1,500 people with it.
Titanic was built with a double bottom but not a double hull. It had watertight bulkheads, but they didn't all go all the way to the top of the hull. These omissions doomed the ship after a 200-foot gash was torn in its starboard side below the waterline by a spur projecting from the iceberg. Or perhaps, new research suggests, the gash was not that big, but substandard rivets caused the Titanic's hull plates to buckle.
Whatever the means of destruction, the ship's five forward compartments quickly flooded, making Titanic’s sinking a mathematical certainty.
Problems with Titanic's maneuverability have also been cited as a cause for the collision. Whether the ship was fitted with a rudder that was too small, as has been suggested, or whether an officer on the bridge rang the engine room with the wrong maneuvering instructions, the ship was unable to avoid the spur at her speed of 23 knots.
There were not nearly enough lifeboats aboard to accommodate the 2,228 passengers and crew – although Titanic actually carried more boats than required for a ship of its tonnage. With the water temperature a frigid 34 degrees, a high death toll was inevitable.
The last hope was the ability of Titanic's wireless operators to summon help before the ship went down. Tragically, the only vessel within reasonable steaming distance, the Californian, carried a single operator and had already shut down its wireless for the evening before the SOS was sent.
As a result of the disaster, changes were made in maritime regulations and shipbuilding practices. Round-the-clock wireless operation went into effect, and the International Ice Patrol was created to monitor the location of icebergs near major shipping lanes. Lifeboat requirements were now based on the number of people aboard, not a ship's tonnage. Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, was reconfigured with a double hull, and the practice became standard in the industry.
Titanic slid down the rails at a time when blind faith in technology
was peaking, and its sinking became the 20th-century metaphor for the futile conceit that humans can ever conquer nature.