`Titanic sunk by steering blunder`

The book, titled `Good As Gold`, says that the ship had plenty of time to miss the iceberg.

Updated: Sep 23, 2010, 08:48 AM IST

London: The sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912 was not merely an accident - but a result of a basic steering blunder, a new book has claimed.

For years, it`s believed that the luxury liner sank as it was sailing too fast and the crew failed to see the iceberg before it was too late.

Now, almost 100 years after the disaster, the book, titled `Good As Gold`, says that the ship had plenty of time to miss the iceberg but the helmsman actually panicked and turned wrong way, `The Daily Telegraph` reported.

And by the time the error was corrected, it`s too late and Titanic`s side was fatally holed by the iceberg. Even then the passengers and crew could have been saved if it had stayed put instead of steaming off again and causing water to pour into the broken hull, according to the book.

The revelation was kept secret until now by the family of the most senior officer to survive the disaster.

Second Officer Charles Lightoller covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried that it would bankrupt the liner`s owners and put his colleagues out of job.

But now his granddaughter, Lady (Louise) Patten, has revealed it in her new novel. "It just makes it seem all the more tragic. They could easily have avoided the iceberg if it wasn`t for the blunder," she said.

The error happened because at the time seagoing was undergoing enormous upheaval because of the conversion from sail to steam ships. The change meant there was two different steering systems and different commands attached to them.

When First Officer William Murdoch spotted the iceberg two miles away, his "hard-a-starboard" order was misinterpreted by the Quartermaster Robert Hitchins.

Hitchins turned the ship right instead of left and, even though he was almost immediately told to correct it, it was too late and the side of the starboard bow was ripped out by the iceberg, the book says.

"The steersman panicked and the real reason why Titanic hit the iceberg, which has never come to light before, is because he turned the wheel the wrong way," said Patten.

His grandfather Lightoller came to know about the error at a dramatic final meeting of the four senior officers, which took place in the First Officer`s cabin shortly before Titanic went down.

While Hitchins had made a straightforward error, what followed was a deliberate decision, the book says. Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic`s owner, the White Star Line, persuaded the Captain to continue sailing. For 10 minutes, Titanic went "Slow Ahead" through the sea.

This added enormously to the pressure of water flooding through the damaged hull, forcing it up and over the watertight bulkheads, sinking Titanic many hours earlier than she otherwise would have done.

"Ismay insisted on keeping going, no doubt fearful of losing his investment and damaging his company’s reputation.

The nearest ship was four hours away. Had she remained at `Stop`, it`s probable that Titanic would have floated until help arrived," said Patten.

PTI