Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Family's Titanic secret revealed

BBC Website 22 September 2010

According to new information from novelist Louise Patten, granddaughter of Titanic's Second Officer Charles Lightoller, the ship hit the iceberg because the helmsman turned the wrong way when ordered to change direction.

The explanation of why such a fundamental error occurred is that the accident happened at a time when ship communications were in transition from sail to steam. Two different systems were in operation at the time, Rudder Orders (used for steam ships) and Tiller Orders (used for sailing ships). Crucially, Mrs Patten said, the two steering systems were the complete opposite of one another, so a command to turn 'hard a-starboard' meant turn the wheel right under one system and left under the other."

It just so happens that the helmsman had been trained on sail, but was steering a steam vessel.

Mrs Patten claims that only a very small number of people knew about this mistake, but they kept quiet because if the White Star Line had been found to be negligent, it would have gone bankrupt and everyone would have lost their jobs.


rob's uncle said...

La Patten's tale is interesting but certainly a fiction, as it appears, 100 years after the event, only in her novel and is not corroborated by any eye witness accounts.

I am a bit surprised that you, with some pretensions to be a scientist, I assume, are taking it so seriously.

Human factors in risk management said...

Thanks for the comment. I accept you may well be right about this being fiction. But I do think it is plausible, even if there is no evidence to back it up.

I have been forming a view in my mind that we are sometimes to focussed on proving one scenario to explain an accident where we have the evidence to say that is what happened. I wonder if we should remain a little more open minded as to what we can learn from the event, even if it was not necessarily what actually happened.

Even if this story about the Titanic is not true, I believe we can still learn from it. If someone needs to turn left, there is always the possibility they may turn right. Even if the likelihood is low, we still need to consider what the consequences would be. That way we can determine what we need to do to manage the risks.

Thanks again