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The Final Seconds before Collision: Part 2 of 12
By Bruce A. Trinque

Part 2 – Lookout Frederick Fleet

American Inquiry:


Q: When you see these things in the path of the ship, you report them?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: What did you report when you saw this black mass Sunday night?
A: I reported an iceberg right ahead.

Q: To whom did you report that?
A: I struck three bells first. Then I went straight to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge.

Q: You struck three bells and went to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge?
A: Yes.

Q: Did you get anyone on the bridge?
A: I got an answer straight away – what did I see, or “What did you see?”

Q: Did the person who was talking to you tell you who he was?
A: No. He just asked me what did I see. I told him an iceberg right ahead.

Q: What did he say then?
A: He said: “Thank you.”

Q: Do you know to whom you were talking?
A: No; I do not know who it was.

Q: What was the object in sending the three bells?
A: That denotes and iceberg right ahead.

Q: It denotes danger?
A: No; it just tells them on the bridge that there is something ahead.

Q: You took both precautions; you gave the three bells, and then you went and telephoned the bridge?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Where did you have to go to the telephone?
A: The telephone is in the nest.

Q: The telephone is right in the crow’s nest?
A: Yes.

Q: You turned and communicated with the bridge from the nest?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Did you get a prompt response?
A: I did.

Q: And you made the statement that you have indicated?
A: Yes.

Q: Then what did you do?
A: After I rang them up?

Q: Yes, sir.
A: I kept staring straight ahead again.

Q: … Can you not indicate, in any way, the length of time that elapsed between the time that you first gave this information by telephone and by bell to the bridge officer and the time the boat struck the iceberg?
A: I could not tell you, sir.

Q: You can not say?
A: No, sir.

Q: You can not say whether it was five minutes or an hour?
A: I could not say, sir.

Q: … Do you know whether the ship was stopped after you gave that telephone signal?
A: No, no; she did not stop at all. She did not stop until she passed the iceberg.

Q: She did not stop until she passed the iceberg?
A: No, sir.

Q: Do you know whether her engines were reversed?
A: Well, she started to go to port while I was at the telephone.

Q: She started to go to port?
A: yes; the wheel was put to starboard.

Q: How do you know that?
A: My mate saw it and told me. He told me he could see the bow coming around.

Q: They swung the ship’s bow away from the object?
A: Yes; because we were making straight for it.

Q: But you saw the course altered? And the iceberg struck the ship at what point?
A: On the starboard bow, just before the foremast.

Q: … Did Lee and you talk over this black object that you saw?
A: Only up in the nest.

Q: What did you say about it? What did he say about it to you or what did you say about it to him?
A: Before I reported, I said, “There is ice ahead.” And then I put my had over to the bell and rang it three times, and then I went to the telephone.

Q: What did he say?
A: He said nothing much. He just started looking. He was looking ahead while I was at the phone and he seen the ship go to port.

Q: Immediately when you saw it [the iceberg], you sounded three gongs, did you?
A: Yes.

Q: Did you, then, immediately after that, pick up the telephone?
A: I went up to the telephone as soon as ever I struck three bells.

Q: And telephoned to the bridge?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: And you got an answer immediately, did you?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Did you noticed how quickly they turned the course of the boat after you sounded the gongs?
A: No, sir; they did not do it until I went to the telephone. While I was at the telephone the ship started to move.

Q: … How soon after you telephoned to the bridge did you strike the berg?
A: I do not know.

Q: Was it one minute or two minutes?
A: I could not tell you.

Q: What did you do in the meantime?
A: We just kept a lookout.

Q: You came nearer and nearer to it?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Did you notice that the boat was bearing out to the left from the berg, or was it going right ahead toward it?
A: It was going right ahead, as far as we knew; but when I was at the phone it was going to port.

Q: You could see that, yourself?
A: Yes, sir; after I got up from the phone.

Q: … What does three bells mean?
A: Oh, three bells. That means a vessel, or whatever it is, right ahead. It indicates anything right ahead; any object.

Q: It indicates that there is some object right ahead? Is it a warning to people on the bridge that there is danger ahead?
A: No; not always; just to let them know that there is some object ahead.

Q: Yes. When you gave the three bells did you immediately turn to the telephone?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: How long were you at the telephone?
A: I suppose half a minute.

Q: When you turned from the telephone and observed the course of the ship, you saw she had turned to port?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Did she turn immediately and suddenly, or gradually to port?
A: Just started to go as I looked up.

Q: Just started to go to port?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: To what extent did she change her course from the direct line?
A: You mean how far did she go?

Q: Yes.
A: A little over a point, or two points.

Q: Did she seem to respond readily to the wheel?
A: Well, we do not know that. We only know she went.

Q: You could see she was going?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: And did she continue to bear to port?
A: Until the iceberg was alongside of her.

British Enquiry:

Q: Who was it first saw the berg? Was it you or Lee?
A: Well, I do not know.

Q: Well, which of you gave the signal?
A: I did.

Q: You were looking ahead. Will you tell my Lord what it was – what you saw? … Now describe to my Lord what it was you saw?
A: Well, a black object.

Q: A black object. Was it high above the water or low?
A: High above the water.

Q: What did you do?
A: I struck three bells.

Q: Was it right ahead of you, or on the port or starboard bow?
A: Right ahead.

Q: You struck three bells immediately, I suppose?
A: Yes, as soon as I saw it.

Q: What did you do next?
A: I went to the telephone.

Q: Was that on the starboard side of the crow’s-nest?
A: Yes.

Q: You went to the telephone and – ?
A: Rang them up on the bridge.

Q: Did you get an answer?
A: Yes.

Q: Did you say anything to them at once or did they answer you before you told them?
A: I asked them were they there, and they said yes.

Q: Yes?
A: Then they said, “What do you see?” I said, “Iceberg right ahead.” They said, “Thank you.”

Q: Then you dropped the telephone, did you?
A: Yes.

Q: What did you do next?
A: I kept the lookout.

Q: You were approaching the berg meanwhile?
A: Yes.

Q: Are you able to give us the distance, or about the distance, the berg was from your ship when first you saw it?
A: No.

Q: We must get it from the events. Did you notice any change in the heading of your vessel after you gave this report?
A: After I rang them up on the ‘phone and looked over the nest she was going to port.

Q: You were looking over the nest. Were you still on the starboard side of the nest?
A: No; my place is on the port, but I went to the starboard to telephone.

Q: Did you remain there when you dropped the telephone, or did you go back to your own place?
A: I went back to my own place again.

Q: It would be on the port side of the crow’s-nest?
A: On the port side.

Q: You saw her head turn to port, I think I understood you to say?
A: Yes.

Q: Was the vessel still turning to port when she struck the berg, can you tell me? … Do not say you can if you cannot.
A: She went to port all right, and the berg struck her on the starboard bow.

Q: She went to port. Do you mean she had a slight turn to port?
A: Well, going to port.

Q: She was still going to port when the berg struck her?
A: On the starboard bow.

Q: … Did the “Titanic” answer the helm, going to port, while you were still at the telephone?
A: I do not know.

Q: Well, just let me recall to your memory what you appear to have said in America. [Reads a transcript of Fleet’s testimony on this point at the American Inquiry.] That means to answer her helm – to answer the starboard helm and turn to port?
A: Yes.

Q: There is only one other matter. Do you remember any conversation with Mr. Lightoller about the look-out and seeing the berg? Just let me read you what Mr. Lightoller said. [Reads a transcript of Lightoller’s testimony at the British Enquiry about a conversation he had with Fleet about seeing the iceberg and the ship turning to port.] Is that right?
A: Well, I am not going to tell him my business. It is my place in Court to say that, not to him.

Q: You really do not understand. That gentleman is not trying to get round you at all.
A: But some of them are, though.


Discussion:
Although Lookout Fleet was unable or unwilling to provide much information about distances or times (except for estimating that he was on the crow’s nest telephone for half a minute), his testimony to the sequence of events was consistent: Fleet sees the black mass of the iceberg right ahead; he rings the bell three times; he turns to the crow’s nest telephone and informs the bridge that there is an iceberg right ahead; after being thanked for this information, Fleet returns to his lookout position and watches the Titanic approach the iceberg, at the same time swinging its bow to port. The swing to port, according to Fleet, apparently began while he was still on the telephone. Given that Fleet evidently dropped the phone immediately upon being thanked by Sixth Officer Moody for his report, the turn to port seems to have begun even before First Officer Murdoch could have ordered Hitchens to put the helm hard a starboard. Nothing in Fleet’s testimony directly addresses the length of time between the helm being put hard over and the instant of collision.

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