A Titanic Blunder

Human mistakes and how we deal with them

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Louise Patton, the granddaughter of the only surviving officer from the Titanic, has written a book revealing the secret her grandfather took to his grave: The Titanic rammed into that iceberg because of one human error.

When the iceberg was spotted two miles away, the First Officer yelled, "Hard-a-starboard!" In a moment of panic, the quartermaster turned the wheel the wrong way. He was immediately corrected, but it was too late. The ship hit the iceberg and less than four hours later it sunk, with 1,517 passengers dead in the icy waters.

Until now, the sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage has been told as a fable of hubris, the folly of thinking we could build an unsinkable ship.  But now, that story may evolve, and we will talk about the Titanic disaster as one of the most notorious mistakes of the 20th Century. 

Here to talk about human error and what it means in this grandest of instances, we're speaking with Kathryn Schulz, author of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error."


Kathryn Schulz

Produced by:

Posey Gruener

Comments [9]


One more lesson we learned from this tragic moment in time was to have someone to monitor the telegraph stations at all times. They could not just turn it off and go to bed late into the night and not be aware of ships calling for help. We usually learn things the hard.

Oct. 06 2010 09:16 AM

I have heard that 15 seconds would have made a difference. either the ship would have missed the iceberg completely, or it would have hit it more head on. It hit a very glancing blow, the worst way it that could have hit the ice because it tore a long gash in the side. We now know that inferior steel was used and that it became brittle in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Also the "water tight" compartments in the bow were far from water tight since they were open at the top, which allowed the flooding to go from compartment to compartment. Add to all this was Ismay ordering Captian Smith to go faster, as he wanted to show an excellent time across the Atlantic, dispite knowing that there were icebergs in those waters. Blame can go in many directions, and like all disasters one mistake multiplies another. The mistake of one helmsman can not be totally responsible for the lost of so many lives. As usual we learned safety from tragedy.

Oct. 04 2010 08:42 PM
Larry from USA

The Titanic had a very small rudder for her size and her sea trials and first legs of the voyage showed that she was very slow to react to the rudder being put "hard over". I doubt that the few seconds of delay in rolling the rudder first to port and then to starboard would have made any difference.

Oct. 04 2010 04:50 PM
chris from mountians

I do think mankind knows that we will never beat MotherNature,she will do as she pleases we must move out of the way or pay the price!

Oct. 04 2010 03:58 PM
Bill Philley

Why is that "news"? On the movie "Titanic" he calls "hardover Starboard", yet the helmsman turns hard to port. I always thought it was just a movie "blunder".

Oct. 04 2010 03:52 PM
Jay Glass from Arizona

Lifeboats? We have more than just a human error here. The company that designed a ship of this size with only enough lifeboats for half or so of all the people on board and claiming to be unsinkable? To me, this is the human error of epic proprotion. Enough said!

Oct. 04 2010 02:40 PM

Obviously her grandfather didn't take it to his grave if she is writing about it. Might be an interesting book though.

Oct. 04 2010 02:39 PM

In all this saddness we forget the good things that came out of this 1) Life boats for evryone,2) Iceberg patrols,3) Better training for crews, and many others yes over 1500 died but out of this how many lives were saved or are being saved because of what we learned

Oct. 04 2010 02:31 PM


this is by far nothing new... though her information helps support my published ideals for who was really responsible for the sinking of the ship.

Sep. 24 2010 02:09 PM

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