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Charles Haas on: The Collision Between the "Florida" and the "Republic"
Charles Haas Q: Set the scene for me of the two ships and what's happening at the moment just before they collide?

CH: It's night time and they have, apparently aboard the "Republic," heard the sound of the "Florida." Now comes several very anxious moments when they try to deduce where that sound is coming from because again, the fog is going to be dispersing that sound, possibly changing its direction. You then try to supplement the sound of the whistle with, perhaps, a hearing of the throbs of the engines and now you decide what is going to my course in the next few moments. Am I going to have to turn left? Am I going to have to turn right? Should I stay straight ahead? How fast is he traveling? So, in a way, the captain is placed in the position of a computer that is perhaps having an overload of information and some of the information is not really too useful because it's being distorted or changed by the environment. So, he's weeding some information out. He's processing other information. A very stressful moment, and we see in Captain Sealby's case that he eventually arrives at the decision that this other vessel is too close for comfort and he then orders the whistle sound twice which, under international regulation, meant that I am turning to the left or to port and therefore you should too. And that was the plan that the two ships would actually separate and increase the distance between them.

Now we are not quite sure of exactly what happens on the "Florida," but what we seem to find is that the quarter master who was at the wheel may have actually inverted the order and instead of turning to port, turned to starboard and the result is that the "Florida" buries its bow into the side of the "Republic." The moment before the collision, the "Republic's" form materializes out of the fog. Captain Ruspini probably realizes that something is drastically wrong and at this point there really isn't any way of avoiding it. It's going to be an inevitable collision and literally within a matter of seconds, that's exactly what happens. "Florida" crunches against the side of the "Republic" and, in a matter of seconds, does very significant damage.

Q: Now this is all happening 5:45 or so in the morning. Who sees it?

CH: There's actually one passenger on the "Florida" who was unable to sleep because of the droning of the foghorn all night. So she was up on deck and she had the show of her life because, while she's up on deck all of a sudden she begins to see these lights materializing out of the murk and she literally stands on the deck transfixed as the "Florida" goes right into the side of the "Republic." And she subsequently wrote of the disaster and I think I'll let it go at that.

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