By Tom Fehn
A difficult steering system may have been what directed the Titanic into an iceberg and in essence , into history, according to a new theory published about the Olympic class passenger liner.
There have been movies, documentaries, and countless books published about the R.M.S. Titanic, but there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the historical steamship. A new theory about what actually happened on April 14, 1912, has been revealed by a descendent of one of the passenger ships officers in her recently published book Good as Gold.
Louise Patten, a writer and granddaughter of Titanic second officer Charles Lightoller suggests that the tragedy could have been avoided if it had it not been for miscommunication between the ship’s officers. Patten’s book reveals her family secrets about the Titanic in a fictionalized account of a banker who survives the sinking.
Patten states the liner hit the iceberg as a result of a steering blunder when Robert Hitchins, the man who made the steering mistake, turned left rather than right. A large contributor of the confusion was a new steering system that sent the Titanic right into the iceberg instead of away from it.
To make matters worse, the chairman of the White Star Line and owner of the Titanic ordered the ship to keep sailing, says Patten. The author also claims if they had stayed still as the captain had wanted, the ship would have taken hours to sink- long enough to rescue everyone aboard, instead of having over 1500 people die in the accident.
Patten’s ancestor, Charles Lightoller, wasn’t on watch at the time of the accident, but he did attend a meeting of the ship’s officers before she sank, according to the book. Lightoller was the most senior officer to survive. He kept the secret from two separate inquiries because according to his granddaughter, he saw it as his duty to protect the White Star Line from bankruptcy. He told only his wife the truth and his family kept it a secret after his death to protect the reputation of the twice decorated war hero.
However, not everyone agrees with Patten’s new claim. “It doesn’t make sense,” says John Joslyn, one of the co-creators of the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, told the Impact. “I’ve been studying this ship since 1987. That’s 23 years, and this is the first time that story has come to light.
“Seems kind of bizarre to me.”
Although it was a new ship, Josyln acknowledges the crew’s expertise of the boat for the last week at sea.
“When the crash occurred, they had been at sea for five days. For someone to say, ‘Oh gee, I forgot how to steer the ship’ is preposterous. These were professional seaman.”
Some experts say Patten’s explanation of the mix-up with steering mechanisms is a not a new theory.
“In the Titanic world, it’s always been one of those things that are referred to,” Michael McCaughan, a maritime specialist and Titanic researcher, said in an interview with AOL News.
“But of course, as we come up close to the 100 year anniversary, this is clearly interesting. It’s a new piece of aural evidence coming into the public sphere, and it will give rise to a lot of discussion and debate,” McCaughan said. “People are still fascinated by the Titanic because it’s like a parable of the human condition; it’s a story of profit, pleasure and memorialization.”
While the theory on how the Titanic sank is universally accepted as an iceberg brushing against the starboard side of the boat, it would not be uncommon for history to change about the Titanic.
Assistant Prof. Manny Santapau, chair of the history department, states that historical events are chronicled and retold to future generations, sometimes with embellishment as it is interpreted through the lens of time.
“History becomes what those historians write and say it is,” he says. “The Titanic sinking was a tragic event in 1912. Ninety eight years later, people remember it as a Hollywood block buster.”