British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 12

Testimony of Charles H. Lightoller, cont.

14216. (The Solicitor-General.) We have had the evidence of the look-out man, you know, and the look-out man says that "it was a dark mass that came through the haze, and there was no white appearing until it was close alongside the ship, and that was just a fringe at the top." If an iceberg such as you have described has a black side and a white side, it is just as likely that the black side is towards the ship as the other side?
- No; you see three sides and the top will be white and there is only one side black. If you take the end of a glacier which is protruding out of a valley, or whatever it is, there are the two sides at the front and the top that are crystallised, and when it comes over the edge and breaks off short there is only this part at the back where it is broken away from the parent glacier which is black.

14217. Do you mean that from whatever point you approached such an iceberg you ought to be able to see something white about it at a distance?
- Yes.

14218. (The Commissioner.) There is another question I want to ask you. The crow's-nest man said that the berg appeared to come, as it were, out of the haze. Is it possible that in the circumstances you have mentioned an iceberg might produce on the eyesight of these men the effect of a haze?
- It ought not to.

The Solicitor-General:
I think I have asked what I wanted. It will save confusion perhaps if I tell your Lordship and tell the witness now that Mr. Boxhall, who roused him, sent me a note to say that although no doubt the witness is quite right in saying that he (Mr. Boxhall.) had said that water was up to the f deck, what Mr. Boxhall meant to convey whatever he said was that it was up to the G deck. When Mr. Boxhall comes he will tell us, but it will save confusion if we have that in mind.

The Commissioner:
Very well; that is quite sufficient.

Examined by Mr. SCANLAN.

14219. You are the senior Officer of all the Officers who have survived the "Titanic" disaster?
- Yes.

14220. I want to ask you one question about the construction of the boat from the point of view of filling the lifeboats. Your Lordship asked if this had been referred to in the evidence before, and I may point out that it is referred to at page 208 in the evidence of James Henry Moore, who was the captain of the "Mount Temple," at the foot of the second column of page 208, Question 9303 onwards to the end of that column.

The Commissioner:
Yes, I have read that.

14221. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) Did you know that it was intended, if the lifeboats were required to be used, that the boats might be filled with the crew, Might take their crew, on the a deck and be lowered into the water and then filled from those gangway doors on E deck?
- I do not quite follow you.

14222. Let me put this to you: You said that you ordered the gangway doors on E deck to be opened?
- Yes.

14223. For what purpose?
- Naturally for putting the passengers into the boat.

14224. I want you to explain to my Lord how you would put the passengers into the boat from the gangway doors?
- Most probably by what we term a pilot ladder - a rope ladder. The men would be able to climb down the rope ladder.

14225. Had you such a rope ladder in readiness?
- Oh, yes, plenty in the ship.

14226. For that purpose?
- Yes.

14227. I think, just towards the end of your evidence, you stated to my learned friend that the Captain had ordered the boats through the megaphone to "Come to," that is, to come along the ship's side, and you said that his object was no doubt to get them near these gangway doors?
- I think I said if I remember rightly that probably that may have been his object with reference to the gangway doors. He did not know about my order about the gangway doors.

14228. Had you understood between you and the Captain, that this was one way of filling the lifeboats in the event of the lifeboats being required?
- I had not discussed the matter with the Captain.

14229. How was it that it occurred to you and to the Captain at the same time?
- I do not know that it occurred at the same time.

14230. But it did occur to both of you?
- It came to both our minds and naturally anyone familiar with the ship, any seaman, any one attached to the ship, would know at once that was the best means of putting the people into the boat - by the gangway doors.

14231. Is that a better means of putting people into a lifeboat - a safer means I mean - than having the boat filled on the boat deck 70 feet above the water and then lowered down?
- Do you mean filled to her utmost capacity?

14232. Yes.
- Yes, it is far better to get the boat water borne.

14233. If a boat is filled to its utmost capacity on the boat deck there is a possibility of two dangers, either the falls may prove insufficient or the boat may buckle and break. I think that is the effect of your evidence?
- That is right.

14234. Is it a practicable way of filling a lifeboat in any kind of sea and weather conditions to lower her into the water practically empty and then fill her from those gangway doors?
- Oh yes.

14235. You do not see any greater difficulty in filling her from those gangways doors in rough weather than in lowering her from the boat deck?
- In rough weather I am afraid that boating altogether is a pretty big problem, More than we could discuss here. There are so many things before that to be taken into consideration.

14236. I know, but it is just because of your vast experience - you hold a Master's certificate and an extra Master's certificate, and I recognise your knowledge and experience - that I want you to give us the benefit of your experience. In rough weather would it be safer to fill the boats from the lower part of the ship than from the boat deck?
- You have put a very difficult question before me, you know, and it has nothing to do with this.

The Commissioner:
It would depend very much on the particular circumstances, Mr. Scanlan. For instance, the first question is the size of the vessel and that would make a very great difference.

The Witness:
It depends upon the size of the vessel and many thousand things.

Mr. Scanlan:
On that, My Lord, May I suggest that if a boat is lowered into the water then, supposing it is inconvenient to fill in your passengers from one side, you might take your boat round to the other side, having a sufficient crew.

The Commissioner:
All I mean is this: It occurs to me that to discuss a problematical case when we have not, and cannot have, the particular circumstances that apply to it is not of very much use.

Mr. Scanlan:
Yes, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
Unless you see a good reason for it I would very much rather listen to your examination upon the circumstances of this particular case. I think it would be of more use to the Court.

Mr. Scanlan:
Yes, My Lord; as I have been instructed on this point I think it only right that I should bring it under your Lordship's notice.

The Commissioner:
If you think differently, I do not want to interfere with you, but I am telling you that, to my mind, it is not of much value to discuss a problematical case when we cannot have the circumstances that would affect it.

The Witness:
I would willingly give you an answer only I must say that it is a very big question you are opening up.

Mr. Scanlan:
If I may say so, My Lord, I submit this question is involved in the questions submitted to the Court by the Board of Trade.

The Commissioner:
I think very likely it is; I can tell you how it appears to me that it might be of importance. The question must arise at some time as to the value of lifeboats, and lifeboats are worked, or intended to be worked, in rough weather as well as in smooth weather, and we may have to consider it; but, at the same time, I do not think that examining this gentleman about the conduct of lifeboats under particular circumstances, which are problematical, would help us very much. You might ask him generally whether lifeboats are of value in a rough sea, and I should be obliged if you would ask him that question because I think it would be of use.

14237. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) Of course, on the night of this unfortunate disaster, you had ideal conditions for filling and manning and getting off the lifeboats?
- Yes.

14238. But take your mind to another possible set of circumstances, a rough sea and rough weather, you would still, I assume, Make an attempt to utilise your lifeboats in the event of a disaster happening?
- Yes.

14239. What complement of a crew would be necessary to man your lifeboats in rough weather?
- There, you see, you compel me to put a question to you: You would have to define rough weather, and there is the beaufort scale nought to twelve with breezes alone, so that we would have to come to some definite understanding as to what is meant by rough weather.

14240. I will give you anything you wish; there is no use your asking me a question, but assume that the weather was rough?
- Do you mean the worst conditions for a lifeboat?

14241. Yes.
- When it is possible to launch it from the davits?

14242. Yes.
- Would it be better to load from the doors or from the davits?

14243. No, just what you would do with your lifeboats in the roughest weather.

The Commissioner:
The roughest weather? I doubt if you could do it.

The Witness:
We could not get them out at all then.

14244. (Mr. Scanlan.) Perhaps that is so, My Lord?
- You mean the roughest weather that a lifeboat would live in?

14245. Yes.
- In the roughest weather a lifeboat would live in, it is extremely doubtful whether you would get them away from the ship, because you must remember there is the motion of the ship and there again you bring up another question, the size of the ship; the motion of the ship would be totally different in a larger or a smaller ship. Then you bring up the question of the height. I am sorry but you are bound to take all these things into consideration.

14246. Quite so. Would you answer this question. In rough weather, as rough as a lifeboat could live in, how would you proceed in lowering and manning and filling your boat?
- With passengers?

Yes - say a ship like the "Titanic."

14247. (The Commissioner.) This question raises another difficulty in my mind. You say "In the roughest weather in which a lifeboat could live." (To the witness.) Now can a lifeboat be launched in such weather?
- No, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
When she once gets to the water it may be very rough indeed and yet she will be able to live, but she might not be able to be launched. Launching and living are very different things.

14248. (Mr. Scanlan.) Perhaps, My Lord, we will be able to get down to a state of comparative roughness, when it is not only possible for a lifeboat to live, but also to be launched. I think I have made myself plain at last.

The Witness:

14249. Thank you. What would you do under these circumstances?

The Commissioner:
That is quite intelligible.

The Witness:
Do you wish me to take the ship into consideration?

14250. (The Commissioner.) The question as I follow it is this - assuming such weather bad but still such weather that you can launch a boat and such weather that the boat when launched will live, where would you load her?
- The "Titanic," or any ship?

14251. (Mr. Scanlan.) Any ship - take the "Titanic" for example?
- Again I am sorry, but I must ask do you mean men and women or men alone?

14252. Men and women?
- Of course it would be better to get the women in from the decks undoubtedly if you could. The men, of course, are handier to jump; you might be able to launch the boat alongside the gangway doors, but it would need pretty smart seamanship to hold her there in this rough weather you speak of. It is quite possible, and is frequently done, not under these circumstances, but, for instance, the pilot leaving; you know how very frequent it is for the pilot to leave and board in rough weather. He is a seaman, and watches his chance and jumps. There is a right time to jump. There are seamen there who know the right time to jump. They must be there to see that the passengers jump at that moment. Is that what you wish me to say?

14253. You have gone a little in that direction, but you say that you would get in the women passengers on the boat deck and you would get the male passengers in from the gangways on the lower deck?
- I must say yes; I cannot tie myself of course.

The Commissioner:
Now, Mr. Scanlan, I want to know whether he would get them from the gangway to the boat by means of a ladder or by means of jumping?

14254. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) Tell my Lord how you would get them into the boat from the gangway doors?
- Depending on the height, if the boat rose with the sea, if the sea was so rough bringing the gunwale of the boat fairly close to the level of the gangway doors let them jump; keep a clear space in the stern sheets and let them jump into the stern sheets with a couple of men there to catch and steady them as they come into the boat. If the sea is not high enough then I would use a rope -ladder and let them come down the rope -ladder. You could have a couple of ladders hanging over the side and tell the men when to jump. Have a rope round them, and let the seamen be hanging on to them so that they cannot let go until you think it desirable for them to jump into the boat. You would have to be guided absolutely by circumstances.

14255. Under such circumstances what complement of a crew would you desire to have in any of these lifeboats?
- To handle her alongside the ship; is that what you mean?

14256. To handle her alongside the ship and at sea afterwards if necessary?
- There is very little handling to be done in a rough sea; you would ride with a sea anchor.

14257. The question I ask is, how many of a crew would you desire to have?
- Say four.

14258. There would be four able seamen?
- Four men generally useful in a boat, with a fair knowledge of boating.

14259. You think four would be sufficient?
- I would handle any of these lifeboats with four men.

14260. Would you require four experienced men?
- Not necessarily experienced men - men who have a fair knowledge of boats, who know one end of the oar from another, and know which end of the sail goes up.

14261. You would not expect to get such men from amongst the stokers, would you?
- Why not?

14262. Would you?
- Yes.

14263. You would not require to have these four men ordinary seamen, deckhands?
- No, not at all.

14264. But they would require to be skilled in the management of lifeboats or boats?
- Not necessarily skilled; they want to be skilled in doing what they are told, and be able to do it.

14265. But in a sudden emergency you would not have time to tell them what to do, just as you had not time to tell the crews you sent from the "Titanic"?
- But you are speaking of riding out at sea now, working a boat in a sea way.

14266. I am speaking of doing anything a boat's crew would have to do, from the launching of the boat from the boat deck until they get to safety, if they ever get there. I do not wish to detain your Lordship with this.

The Commissioner:
You have indicated your point.

14267. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) It has been suggested in evidence which has been given in this case to my Lord that a crew of nine is desirable and necessary?
- Then that would mean five less passengers, would it not?

14268. It would, of course, and, on the other hand, Mr. Lightoller, it would mean more boats. Do you agree with that?
- The necessity of nine men to a boat?

14269. Yes?
- Emphatically no.

14270. I understand your point of view. When you were leaving the bridge after your second watch, I understand it to be your evidence to my Lord yesterday that you explained to Mr. Murdoch what conclusion you had arrived at as to the proximity of ice; is that so?
- I have not quite got that yet. Do you mean that I told Mr. Murdoch?

14271. When your watch finished at 10 o'clock on the night of the disaster, is it the case that you stated to Mr. Murdoch the conclusion you had arrived at as to the proximity of ice?
- Yes.

14272. You were examined with regard to this in America; do you remember that?
- No, I do not remember what I said there.

14273. I am reading from what purports to be the official note of the evidence in America, My Lord. It is the first day, and the first time you were in the witness-box, and it is on page 68 of the copy I have. You were asked, "Do you know where you were at the hour you turned over the watch to Mr. Murdoch? (Mr. Lightoller.) Not now, Sir. (Senator Smith.) Did you know at the time? (Mr. Lightoller.) Yes, Sir. (Senator Smith.) Can you give us any idea? (Mr. Lightoller.) When I ended the watch I roughly judged we should be getting towards the vicinity of the ice, as reported by that Marconigram I saw somewhere about 11 o'clock." Do you follow this?
- Yes.

14274. "(Senator Smith.) That you would be in that latitude? (Mr. Lightoller.) Longitude. (Senator Smith.) At 11 o'clock? (Mr. Lightoller.) Somewhere about eleven, yes. (Senator Smith.) Did you talk with Mr. Murdoch about that phase of it when you left the watch? (Mr. Lightoller.) About what? (Senator Smith.) I said, did you talk with Mr. Murdoch about the iceberg's situation when you left the watch? (Mr. Lightoller.) No, Sir. (Senator Smith.) Did he ask you anything about it? (Mr. Lightoller.) No, Sir. (Senator Smith.) What was said between you? (Mr. Lightoller.) We remarked on the weather, about its being calm, clear. We remarked the distance we could see. We seemed to be able to see a long distance. Everything was clear. We could see the stars setting down on the horizon." From this it appears that when you gave your evidence you were under the impression that you had not told Mr. Murdoch about the icebergs and the conclusion you arrived at as to approaching them?
- I may say by the questions that were put to me that those answers you might agree were correct as far as I understood the questions at that time.

14275. Is it your explanation then that this is incorrect or incomplete?
- Incomplete, I say, yes.

14276. And that notwithstanding this evidence, you did tell Mr. Murdoch about the icebergs?
- Undoubtedly, yes.

14277. You will admit, I suppose, that this is misleading, and, I suppose, you would like to correct it?
- Yes, I should.

The Solicitor-General:
I think if you look a little earlier, Mr. Scanlan, you will find that this gentleman was asked, "Did you communicate to Mr. Murdoch this information that the Captain had given you on the bridge?" And he speaks of having communicated to him about the ice then, I think. "So that the Officer in charge, Mr. Murdoch, was fully advised by you that you were in proximity to these icebergs," and he says: "I would not call it proximity," but I think the answers show that he did say that then. I know you want to be fair.

14278. (Mr. Scanlan.) I do, and I hope you will understand that, Mr. Lightoller?

The Witness:
Quite right.

14279. Apart from your telling Mr. Murdoch, was there any record which he could look up for himself in order to be assured that you were getting on towards the ice-field?
- The custom, as I think I explained previously, is that we have a notice board in the chart room for the purpose of putting up anything referring to navigation, wireless reports on matters navigational, and it is open for anyone to look at.

14280. Are you quite clear that there was not a haze on this night?
- Yes.

14281. Are you aware that while you were on watch from 6 to 10, George Symons, a Witness who was examined yesterday was one of the men stationed in the crow's-nest?
- Yes.

14282. In answer to Mr. Laing, when he was asked, "While you were on the look-out up to 10 o'clock what sort of a night was it?" He replies, "Pretty clear, Sir, a fine night, rather hazy, if anything a little hazy on the horizon, but nothing to speak of." Do you agree with that?
- No.

14283. You did not observe any haze. Is it possible that the man in the crow's-nest would have a better opportunity than you had of observing whether or not there was a haze?
- No.

14284. You say you would have as good an opportunity where you were stationed on the bridge?
- Better.

14285. I suppose you know that we have it from other evidence as well, from the look-out man, Lee (this is on page 72, My Lord.), that it was hazy that night. He is asked, "What sort of a night was it?" and his answer was: "A clear starry night overhead, but at the time of the accident there was a haze right ahead." Then he is asked, I think by the Attorney-General: "Did you notice this haze which you say had extended on the horizon when you first came on the look-out, or did it come later on? - (A.) It was not so distinct then, not to be noticed." Can you explain if these men are truthfully giving their evidence how it is that they could have observed a haze while you on the bridge would not have observed it?
- No, I could not.

14286. If an iceberg loomed up ahead of you, would the person on the bridge have as good an opportunity of observing it as the man in the crow's-nest?
- Quite.

14287. Does it strike you in any way as a singular circumstance that when the iceberg did appear and was sighted, the observation of it was by the man in the crow's-nest, and not by the men on the bridge?
- Have we any conclusive evidence to that effect?

The Commissioner:
The evidence is that attention was drawn to it by the three bells. As far as I know, the first indication of it was the ringing of the three bells from the crow's-nest when the man in the crow's-nest sighted it.

14288. (Mr. Scanlan.) Yes, My Lord, and all the evidence we have had up to the present goes to establish that view of the matter. (To the witness.) Now, you did state yesterday that you yourself had used binoculars for the purpose of detecting ice. Do you not think it would have been -

The Commissioner:
I do not think he said that. What he did say, to my recollection, was that he would much prefer his eyesight for the purpose of detecting an iceberg.

The Witness:
That is right, My Lord.

The Commissioner:
But that having seen the iceberg with his eyes, he then would probably take the binoculars for the purpose of examining it more particularly.

Mr. Scanlan:

14289. (The Commissioner - To the witness.) Were you using your glasses up to 10 o'clock, when you were on the bridge?
- I had them in my hand. Will I explain to your Lordship?

14290. Were you raising them to your eyes from time to time?
- Occasionally.

14291. (Mr. Scanlan.) I think this is the utility of binoculars - you see something with the naked eye, and then applying the glasses you determine what it is?
- Exactly.

14292. Do you not think that before the look-out man stationed in the crow's-nest ventured to report an iceberg he would require to satisfy himself what he saw was really an iceberg?

The Commissioner:
Forgive me, he did not report an iceberg; what he reported by the three bells was something ahead.

Mr. Scanlan:
I think your Lordship will find in the evidence -

The Commissioner:
Do three bells mean iceberg?

Mr. Scanlan:
No, My Lord, but at the same time he went to the telephone, and he stated at the moment on the telephone: "Iceberg ahead, Sir."

The Commissioner:
That is true, but the three bells indicated nothing more than that there was something ahead.

14293. (Mr. Scanlan.) Something right ahead, My Lord, and then the telephone message conveyed it. (To the witness.) If one of those men on the look-out had seen something and applied the glasses is it not possible that he might have been able to identify it as an iceberg sooner than with the naked eye?
- He might be able to identify it, but we do not wish him to identify it. All we want him to do is to strike the bells.

14294. I will put this to you: Supposing a man on the look-out fancies he sees something and strikes the bell, and it turns out not to be anything, I should think he would be reprimanded?
- He is in every case commended.

14295. (The Commissioner.) I do not understand that. Is he commended when he signals that there is something ahead when there is nothing ahead?
- Yes, your Lordship.

14296. (Mr. Scanlan.) If he did it frequently in a journey would not the commendation take the form at the end of the voyage of paying him off and dispensing with his services?
- Not at all. The man is not an absolute fool; he knows that if he is trying to keep a good look-out, particularly amongst ice, and he suspects he sees anything, he will strike the bell; if it turns out to be nothing he may come on the bridge and say, "I am sorry that I struck the bell when there was nothing;" but he is invariably told, "Never you mind; if you suspect that you see anything strike the bell, no matter how often."

14297. Let me read this to you from the evidence of the look-out man Fleet, when he was examined in America. He is asked by Senator Smith: "Suppose you had had glasses such as you had on the 'Oceanic', or such as you had between Belfast and Southampton, could you have seen the black object a greater distance? - (Mr. Fleet.) We could have seen it a bit sooner. (Senator Smith.) How much sooner? - (Mr. Fleet.) Well, enough to get out of the way." Do you agree with that?

The Commissioner:
I see it is referred to there as a black object.

Mr. Scanlan:
Yes, My Lord; that is the language of Senator Smith in the question.

The Commissioner:
But I should think - I do not know - that Senator Smith had heard the word "black" previously.

Mr. Scanlan:
Yes, My Lord; I am taking this as detached and putting it as being in the witness' evidence.

The Solicitor-General:
Lee called it "a dark mass."

14298. (Mr. Scanlan - To the witness.) From the evidence you gave to the Court yesterday at what distance ahead do you think you yourself in the peculiar conditions which prevailed on this Sunday night could have picked out an iceberg?
- About a mile and a half to two miles.

14299. Do you mean by the naked eye?
- Yes.

14300. And with glasses could you discern it at a greater distance?
- Most probably.

14301. (The Commissioner.) I do not follow the answer?
- I meant to convey (it is rather a difficult question to answer.) that we do not have the glasses to our eyes all the time, and naturally I should see it with my eyes first. If I happened to be looking directly ahead at the moment an iceberg came in view and I had the glasses to my eyes at that particular moment it is possible I should see it, whereas I should not have seen it quite as soon with my eyes.

14302. Apparently binoculars are placed in a bag or a box in the crow's-nest at times. At the time of the accident it is said there were no binoculars on the "Titanic" in the crow's-nest; is that true?
- That there were none?

14303. No, is it true that there is a place for them in the crow's-nest?
- I believe so.

14304. Then, presumably, it is intended that they should be there?
- Yes.

14305. We are told you know they were not there this night?
- Yes.

14306. And they are there to be used, I suppose?
- Yes.

14307. When they are being used in the crow's-nest are they used in the sense of being always held up by the look-out man to his eyes, or are they merely had recourse to as occasion seems to suggest?
- That is it, your Lordship.

14308. The man on the look-out is not always standing with the binoculars up to his eyes?
- No, certainly not.

Continued >