Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Rescue at Sea Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Reference
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography


Virginia Utermohlen on: The Collision Between the Republic and the Florida
Virginia Utermohlen Q: Can you walk me through the crash and what heppened? What's Binnsy's reaction?

VU: Well, he was lying in bed, asleep, exhausted, actually, when this huge crashing sound came grinding,and his cabin shook, and he found himself on the floor, in a pile of debris with half the cabin gone. And he checked that he was OK and then started looking for the pieces of his apparatus. And they were scattered all over. He had to bring them all together. And fortunately, in the dark, he knew his apparatus so well that he could reassemble it, in the dark. However, because it was dark, and because that meant the power was out, he was gonna have to rely on the storage batteries that he had and they were in rather poor shape after this beating that they had gotten with the crash. And he was not sure he was gonna be able to get a signal strong enough to be able to reach anybody, the coast or any ship, that was around. But nevertheless, he figured he better do it because he had to get some rescue. It was clear that something horrible had happened to the ship. And so he was able to put the apparatus together, and in the process of doing this he broke the key for sending the messages. And this would have been a calamity had he not been able to actually hold the thing together with one hand while he sent messages with the other. He also had ascertained that the antenna for sending messages was OK. So there he was holding the whole thing together basically with his two hands and sending the keys -- tapping the keys at the same time, hoping that someone would hear him.

Q: What would happen if they didn't?

VU: And if they didn't, well, it was very clear that the "Republic" was probably going to sink. It wasn't at all clear what was going to happen with the "Florida." Its bow had been rammed in, but it was above the water line. However, if all the passengers from the "Republic" were to be put on the "Florida," along with all its passengers, the question arose whether that ship would become overloaded and finally end up sinking itself. So there was a real need to have people coming to the rescue.

Q: What do you think Binns is thinking about, getting his signal out?

VU: Well, it was clear that something horrendous had happened. And that there was real importance to let people know and if there were some ships in the vicinity to get them to come. And that was clear, you know, an absolute necessity to do it. And so one of the first things he did after he ascertained that his apparatus was intact was to go see Captain Sealby and find out what the state of the ship was. And I think it was very reassuring to Captain Sealby to know that the wireless apparatus was still functioning, although with the caveat that the signal was far too weak probably even to reach any place like the coast.

Q: Tell us about the message that goes up back and forth between him and one or two other wireless men when this happened?

VU: Well, there were a couple of ships in the vicinity, each of which had a Marconi man on them, and the message he sent was received by the "La Lorraine," one of the ships that was around. The message was basically that he was still on the job although the ship was sinking. And this was overheard, because anybody could receive a message, by the wireless man in the "Baltic" who said, "Don't worry old man, we're bursting our boilers to get to you."

back to Interview Transcripts | next

Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference

THE FILM & MORE | SPECIAL FEATURE | TIMELINE | MAPS | PEOPLE & EVENTS | TEACHER'S GUIDE | Web Credits