Q: What does it mean for the lights to go out on the "Republic" suddenly?
CH: When the lights go out today, we have emergency lighting units that light the way and show us how to get to exits and so forth. But on the "Republic" when the lights failed they really did fail. You now have approximately seven hundred people, most of whom have been asleep, suddenly awakened by the jar of the collision. They step out into the corridor, the friendly steward, isn't there, the lights are out, you can't ring for the steward to ask what the problem is. So you're actually having a double darkness. You're having the darkness of light's absence, and you also have the darkness of a lack of information. So as they step out into the corridors they are literally groping their way by feel, by touch, until the stewards can get candles or lanterns or whatever and begin distributing them through the accommodation. So for those first couple of minutes, until the stewards and those down below were able to deploy what little auxiliary lighting they had. It was pitch black and the alleyways of a ship are sometimes very complicated. Finding your way out of your state room and down a corridor and across the ship and up the stairs and so forth was a real challenge. But somehow "Republic's" passengers didn't really panic. There was a kind of calmness, the stewards, within a matter of ten minutes or so, had things fairly well under control. They had placed candles down at the base of the grand stair case and were basically walking up and down the aisles or the corridors. And so, there really wasn't much of an opportunity for panic. It almost semeed to be more of a questioning of what's going on? Why are we awake now? Why are the lights out, and so forth. There was really no sense of urgency or imminency that there was a disaster in the making here. It was just a good solid bump and the lights are out and very little more than that.
CH: For the men in the engine room, the collision was more than just a little bump. Suddenly the sea is pouring in, far faster than any of the ship's pumps can handle. They nevertheless can't leave, particularly those men who are in the boiler room right adjacent to the engine room. Because if they don't do something, the cold water striking the hot boilers creates the possibility of an explosion. So they have to literally draw the fires and that was done by shoveling the coal out of the boilers onto the floor. In a matter of minutes and. of course, at this point, the water is rising up to their waists, up to their shoulders,and literally they're chased by the water out of the room. And one of the engineers heroically turned on what was called an injector pump which actually helped to flood the boilers in a gentle way so that they wouldn't explode. So they literally had a matter of minutes before they were driven from their places and as the steam pressure dropped, that's what puts the lights out. That's what renders the "Republic" nonmovable and essentially sets the stage for the evacuation of the ship.
back to Interview Transcripts | next