Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Wireless Station in Remote Cape Race Handled Titanic Distress Call: Newfoundland Wireless Site Heard Titanic SOS

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Wireless Station in Remote Cape Race Handled Titanic Distress Call: Newfoundland Wireless Site Heard Titanic SOS

Article excerpt

CAPE RACE, N.L. - In a remote Marconi wireless station on the southeast tip of Newfoundland, the bland stream of "Wish you were here" messages from passengers aboard RMS Titanic ended with the inconceivable.

"My God, Mr. Gray, the Titanic has struck an iceberg and is calling CQD," head operator Walter Gray would later recall being told by his subordinate, J.C.R. Godwin, at 10:25 p.m. EST on April 14, 1912.

It was just before midnight, ship's time, and the luxury liner would be under water in less than three hours.

CQD was the early Morse code distress call used by Marconi installations. Titanic's head operator Jack Phillips, a good friend of Gray's from Marconi training, also sent out the more novel SOS.

Cape Race was the closest land base to the stricken ship, which met its fate about 600 kilometres southeast in the North Atlantic's freezing Iceberg Alley.

For the first hour or so after that first distress call, "there was no thought of the ship sinking," Gray wrote in his memoir "The Life Story of an Old Shetlander."

After all, the jewel of the White Star Line had been glorified as unsinkable.

"It was only when Phillips announced ...'We are now sinking slowly by the head. Putting women and children off in boats. Weather remains clear and calm,' that the horror gripped," Gray wrote.

Gray and his three-man crew continued to relay fading signals from Phillips in a desperate effort to get help from nearby vessels.

The actual Marconi logs at Cape Race were lost to fire or were accidentally thrown out, according to differing historical accounts.

But a log later replicated from those notes by one of Gray's assistants, Robert Hunston, documents in eastern standard time the last messages between Titanic and other ships.

"11:00 p.m. Titanic continues calling for assistance and giving position."

"11:36 p.m. Olympic asks Titanic which way latter steering. Titanic replies: 'We are putting women off in boats.' "

"12:50 a.m. Virginian says last he heard of Titanic was at 12:27 a.m. when latter's signals were blurred and ended abruptly. From now on boats working amongst themselves relative to Titanic disaster. Nothing more heard from Titanic."

About two hours and 40 minutes after striking the iceberg, the fabled ship had filled with water and was speeding toward the ocean floor.

Just over 700 people would be rescued from lifeboats or makeshift rafts, including Titanic's assistant wireless operator Harold Bride who survived on an overturned collapsible lifeboat. More than 1,500 people died.

It's unclear why the closest ship, the Californian, did not respond from where it had stopped several kilometres away in an icefield. An inquiry after the disaster heard that the wireless operator had gone off shift and never heard the pleas for help, and that Titanic's emergency rocket flares were either misinterpreted or downplayed. …

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