Q: What's Jack Binns doing?
CH: Well, Jack Binns was the wireless operator on the "Republic." He had been very busy sending passenger traffic until relatively late that evening. And, as a result, he was in his bunk sound asleep and actually slept right through the collision. The jar finally did wake him up or perhaps the sound of running water, I'm not sure which. And he basically leapt out of bed and went to his wireless cabin to discover that three sides of the cabin were no longer present. They had been destroyed in the collision. Realizing that his ship has just been struck and is in very grave danger, apparently, the first thing that he does is go to the telegraph key to try to determine whether the apparatus itself has been damaged. And he is very relieved to discover that it is still in working order. But now, another problem crops up and that is that within five minutes of the collision, water is flooding into the engine room and into the generator room of the "Republic." And within five minutes all of the electrical power on board the "Republic" fails and the ship is plunged into darkness. So although his wireless is functional, it now has no power with which to send any signals. So he's now facing an amazing problem, and this is the very moment where his wireless is perhaps most needed. There's no way to activate it. So Mr. Binns almost immediately realizes that the only way is to go by way of battery power and he actually leaves the deck and goes down below into a flooding compartment. He actually has to dive under water to get these batteries which are stored down there, bring them up, connect them to the set, and for the next many many hours, it is the batteries that are the life line between "Republic" and the rest of the world.
Q: And what does he do?
CH: Binns, at first, begins with a very simple message: this is the "Republic," we are rammed by an unknown steamer. At that point, he didn't know the "Republic's" exact location, so he simply sent out this call. Now because he was operating on battery power, his signals were relatively weak. They only had a range of maybe 60 or 80 miles. So as a result of that, the wireless station in Siasconsett, Massachusetts begins to take an important role in this whole thing. Siasconsett actually receives the "Republic's" messages and then broadcast them again with much greater volume, with much greater power so that they can be heard by many ships who then begin going to the aid of "Republic." Eventually, he is given a position. The position is about 20 miles south of the Nantucket light vessel. He adds that to the message and basically begins sending information to guide these other ships to the "Republic's" side. Now the problem was that the wireless cabin was literally falling down around his ears and the roof was falling in and three sides of the cabin were gone. If that weren't bad enough, in the darkness he managed to break the telegraph key that he was using. So his wireless knowledge was really taxed to the limit and he actually had to take one hand and hold the key together and use the other hand to actually manipulate the key and send a message. All of this in pitch darkness. And he is very grateful, I think, when daylight begins to arrive and he can actually see what he's doing. But you have a tremendous calmness of or poise in the face of emergency that this young man of only 26 is not only at his post, ready, willing and able to go but is able to surmount what become physically very very tiring conditions. In addition to the problem with the key, you now have cold wind sweeping through the, the cracks in the holes in the wireless cabin, all the heat had failed, because the ship's steam is gone and literally at certain times his hands became so cold that he couldn't really manipulate to send the messages that he needed to. So he was very grateful when a steward began bringing him cups of coffee periodically simply so that that he could thaw his hands out.
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