My Experience in the Wreck of the RMS Titanic
The RMS Titanic. The largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world. Launched at Belfast, Ireland, May 1911. Length, 882 ft. 6 inches. Displacement, 66,000 tons. On her maiden trip struck a large iceberg on Sunday, April 14th, at 10.25 P. M., 41° 46 minutes, north latitude; 50° 14 minutes, west longitude. Sunk at 2.20 A. M., April 15, 1912, with a loss of over 1,500 lives. American Medicine (May 1912) p. 272.
The First-hand account by Henry W. Frauenthal, M. D., New York City - A Survivor of the Titanic Disaster.
Recalling the Titanic as I saw it from the tender just before going on board at Cherbourg, it is almost impossible to conceive that this magnificent vessel of 880 feet could have sunk. Up to the time of the accident, the trip had been ideal.
On Sunday night, I retired at about ten o'clock, and my wife and I were sleeping soundly when at about twelve o'clock, I was awakened by my brother pounding on my cabin door, and insisting upon my getting up.
Thinking that I had overslept and was late, I asked what was the matter, and he said that something had happened to the boat. On going to the door, he informed me that he had overheard the captain telling Colonel Astor that something serious had occurred to the ship, and advised that everyone put on life preservers, and they were lowering the lifeboats.
When I went on the boat deck, there were a few people there, but no confusion, and I saw them lowering the boats. There seemed difficulty in filling the lifeboats. I returned for my wife to my cabin, No. 88, Deck C, and in passing Mr. Widener, who was in No. 80, Deck C, I informed him that I had learned the boat was in danger, but he said that it was ridiculous.
This answer probably describes the mental state of nearly everyone on the lifeboat thinking that it was impossible for anything serious to happen to this paradigm of modern ship architecture. I returned to my cabin and insisted on my wife putting a life preserver on.
We went on deck and got in the boat which was in charge of Third Officer Pittman. In this boat, there was an equal number of men and women, thirty-four in all.
The lifeboat on the port side, which was lowered at the same time as ours, was sent off by order of Captain Smith with only twenty-two passengers because at that time there were no more who were willing to trust themselves to the lifeboats.
In the process of being lowered, several times we thought we would be thrown into the water. When near the water, it was discovered that the plug in the bottom of the boat had not been safely inserted, and this was attended to.
Had this been overlooked, this lifeboat would have sunk as one of the others did, in which the plug was not inserted. After rowing a short distance, I inquired of Third Officer Pittman what had occurred to the boat, being under the impression that the trouble was with the machinery and we were likely to be blown up.
I learned then for the first time, that ‘we had struck an iceberg. I asked when we would return to the Titanic, and he said within half an hour, as he thought there was no danger to the vessel and only as we observed one row of porthole lights after another disappearing below the water line, did we begin to realize how serious the accident was.
One of the sailors in our boat was on watch at the time the accident occurred and said that the iceberg was above the upper deck and through concussion, several tons of ice were thrown on the upper deck.
Pittman, the 3rd officer, who like me, was asleep, was not awakened by the accident. Those who were awake at the time said there was no concussion, but it seemed as if the boat scraped like a ferry-boat going into the slip.
Pittman was awakened by a sailor and said he went down to see what had occurred and met some of the stokers coming out of the hold, saying that water was rushing in and driving them out.
He then went on deck and aided in loading the other boats. He was ordered to take charge of the lifeboat in which I left the vessel, which I think was No. 5.
There was no moon, but the stars in the sky were numerous, and it made the surroundings appear as light as it would with a quarter moon. We rowed about a mile from the Titanic, believing that if she went down, it would be a protection against the suction of the vessel.
In the lifeboat, I was in, and in all the other boats which I inspected as they were hoisted in the Carpathia, there was no compass, no lantern, no water, and no food!
The only light in any of the small boats was a lantern taken off by Fifth Officer Lowe and his reason for taking it was, as he said, that he had been in two shipwrecks previously and realized its need. It was through this light that the Carpathia was able to sight us, as they saw the light at a distance of ten miles.
After daybreak, it would have been difficult for the Carpathia to have detected us in the ice field we were in. The ocean surface during the whole night was as smooth as glass, nor was there any wind. The air was intensely cold, and nearly everyone suffered from the low temperature.
Track Chart Showing the Place Where Titanic Struck an Iceberg and Sank at 2.20 A. M., April 15, 1912. American Medicine (May 1912) p. 273. GGA Image ID # 105ea28490
We watched the boat and timed her as she sank, which was about 2.20 am, according to the officer's watch. The time of the accident was approximately 10.45 p.m., showing that the boat remained afloat for only about three and a half hours.
One of the boats rowed up to us, which had but twenty-seven passengers in it and three men from our lifeboat were transferred to this lifeboat.
When the vessel went down and for some time after, the cries of those who were on life preservers and floats were indescribable and no one who heard these cries, will ever forget them.
The Carpathia was in sight at about 4.30 a.m., when all the small boats rowed towards her. We were taken on board at about six o'clock, being on the water just about 5 1/2 hours.
Some of the smaller boats did not arrive until nearly nine o'clock, after which we circled around for about three hours, hoping to pick up some of the shipwrecked.
During the night we could see the massive iceberg which we struck and several smaller ones, and I cannot see how so large a mass of ice could not have been seen in ample time by the lookout. At about 8 a. m., two large vessels arrived on the scene, and they were left on the ground to see if they could pick up any of the survivors.
When day broke, we saw about two miles away what seemed to be land, but which was a field of ice and which I since learned was 200 miles long. So had we missed the massive iceberg, going at the rate of 21 or 22 knots an hour, we would have driven into the field of ice just ahead of us.
The passengers from the small boats were taken into the Carpathia utilizing a pilot's ladder. For safety, the women had a looped rope under their arms, and when they lost their footing on the rope ladder, they were drawn on board the boat.
Many did lose their footing on account of the nervous state they were in and the cold which made them stiff; and in being hauled on board, received many bruises.
One cannot speak in too high praise of the arrangements for our reception on board the Carpathia. As each one got to the deck, they were given a sizeable hot drink, of either hot water or hot tea, or hot diluted brandy. If this did not warm them up, they were covered with blankets, and additional drinks were given.
By this means, a reaction was brought about, and in place of being blue, they became pink and moist, and out of the 705 survivors, no case of bronchitis or pneumonia occurred to my knowledge, and the vessel came into port with a clean bill of health.
Although all the papers were filled with the account of a large number of ill on board, it was not a fact. A certain number suffered from the exposure and from injuries and were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital.
Several sprained ankles and Pott's fractures occurred from various causes. Since many women lost their husbands, a certain amount of nervous hysteria prevailed.
This was intensified by the fact that on our trip to New York for four days, we were most of the time enveloped in fogs and everyone seemed to dread the recurrence of an accident.
About $6,000 was collected on the Carpathia from the survivors to meet the immediate needs of the Titanic passengers, of which $4,000 was afterward given to the crew on the Carpathia, in recognition of their services.
The extensive death list was because the majority of the people did not know the nature and extent of the damage done to the boat, and a significant number knew that the Carpathia had been in communication and that she was coming to the rescue. The fear of going into the small boats on account of the danger in case of a high sea deterred many from entering.
There was a general feeling that the ship could not possibly sink before some of the larger boats nearby would come to the rescue. This was particularly true, as some of the people refused to depart shortly before the ship went down, thinking it safer than venturing in a small boat.
Henry W., Frauenthal, M.D. (New York City), “My Experience in the Wreck of the Titanic,” in American Medicine, Original Articles, Complete Series, Vol. XVIII, New Series, Vol. VII, No. 5, May 1912, p. 271-274