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Inside the remaining mysteries surrounding the Titanic – from what happened to the passengers to whether an iceberg really caused the tragedy


On April 15, 1912, the most famous ship in history sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, after hitting an iceberg just four days into its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.

The now famous tragedy resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people, including children, and the remains of the boat now lie on the seafloor about 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

As years passed, the RMS Titanic became the focus of endless films, documentaries, and news reports.

Despite this, 112 years have gone by and today on the ships anniversary, there are still a myriad of unanswered questions surrounding how tragedy unfolded for the boat that was famously dubbed ‘unsinkable’.

Here, MailOnline looks into the remaining mysteries of the Titanic, which we may never know the answer to, including what happened to the passengers and whether an iceberg really caused the disaster.

112 years have gone by and today on the ships anniversary, there are still a myriad of unanswered questions surrounding how tragedy unfolded for the boat that was famously dubbed 'unsinkable'

112 years have gone by and today on the ships anniversary, there are still a myriad of unanswered questions surrounding how tragedy unfolded for the boat that was famously dubbed ‘unsinkable’

What happened to the passengers?

More than 1,500 people – around 70 per cent of the passengers onboard – tragically perished after the Titanic hit an iceberg 112 years ago.

But, the bodies of around 1,160 passengers were never found and where they are remains a mystery to this day – they were unaccounted for and never seen again. 

Only around 340 bodies with lifejackets still on them were recovered from the ocean’s surface, leading people to question what happened to the others.

Among those never found were US businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, Liverpool-born ship steward Thomas Peter O’Connor and the ship’s captain, Edward Smith. 

James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist and historian who has dived to the wreck himself, said there could be ‘some semblance of human remains’ still inside what’s left of the luxury liner.

‘Scientists think that could be a possibility, but this is a science we don’t know much about, particularly in the deep ocean,’ Delgado told MailOnline. 

Speaking to MailOnline from Washington DC, Delgado added that ‘even teeth dissolve’ after sustained periods on the ocean floor, which is mostly populated by microbial life such as bacteria.

He has made two expeditions down to the Titanic’s remains, in 2000 and in 2010, and called it a ‘very sobering and powerful place’.

More than 1,500 people – around 70 per cent of the passengers onboard – tragically perished after the Titanic hit an iceberg 112 years ago

More than 1,500 people – around 70 per cent of the passengers onboard – tragically perished after the Titanic hit an iceberg 112 years ago

Captain Edward Smith died the night the Titanic went down, but what exactly happened to him remains much more of a mystery

Captain Edward Smith died the night the Titanic went down, but what exactly happened to him remains much more of a mystery

Among the people on the Titanic whose bodies were never found were American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim

Among the people on the Titanic whose bodies were never found were American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim 

Photograph of Titanic leaving Southampton at the start of her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Five days after this photo was taken the ship was on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

Photograph of Titanic leaving Southampton at the start of her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Five days after this photo was taken the ship was on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean 

As years passed, the RMS Titanic became the focus of endless films, documentaries, and news reports

As years passed, the RMS Titanic became the focus of endless films, documentaries, and news reports

‘What you see which is very compelling is pairs of shoes splayed, suggesting this is where they ultimately came to rest,’ said Delgado, who is senior vice president of archaeology firm SEARCH Inc.

‘It’s a tangible reminder of the loss of these lives.’

In the 112 years that have followed the disaster, expeditions to the Titanic have not found any human remains, according to RMS Titanic Inc, the company that owns rights to the wreckage. 

Bodies would have decomposed or been eaten away by the marine life at this depth, including fish and crustaceans such as shrimp, as well as bacteria.

The creatures adapted to this unique underwater ecosystem would have consumed human skin and tissue – but what about bone?

Professor John Cassella, a forensic scientist at Atlantic Technological University Sligo in Ireland, said bone degrades quickly in salty water.

‘Bone is made from a mineral called hydroxyapatite, made up of calcium and phosphate primarily but lots of other smaller molecules,’ he told MailOnline.

‘The water will assist in the dissolution or the dissolving of this bone mineral and of course the fragile organic proteins that help glue the bone together.’

Haunting images show a pair of shoes that lie at the bottom of the North Atlantic on the wreck of the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912

Haunting images show a pair of shoes that lie at the bottom of the North Atlantic on the wreck of the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912

Professor Cassella said there could be human bones that still remain in the ruins even after 100 years, but this depends on salt water levels, the pH of the water and effects of microorganisms.

Professor Dame Sue Black, a forensic anthropologist and President of St John’s College at Oxford University, said bones ‘don’t like to be underwater’.

‘In reality it is the damage done by predation that causes the destruction,’ she told MailOnline. ‘Marine life see bones as a calcium reservoir to be tapped.’

The Titanic’s wreck wasn’t found until September 1985, over 73 years after the sinking.

Even in a cold and low oxygen environment such as the bottom of the ocean, the decomposition of the bodies would have been slowed down but not stopped, according to Professor Cassella.

Whether they’re there or not, finding human remnants at the Titanic site will likely require underwater research vessels to disturb parts of the wreck – something they are prohibited from doing.

Titanic is already in a fragile state, as bacteria are eating iron in the ship’s hull and will eventually consume the entire ship.

What’s left of the ship is deteriorating so rapidly underwater that it could disappear completely within the next 40 years.

Did an iceberg really cause the tragedy? 

Another question that many people have tried to find an answer to is whether the ship really sank because of an iceberg, and why the crew didn’t see it.

Passengers who survived the tragedy told of a beautiful, cloudless night, with some even claiming they spent their final moments on deck before boarding a lifeboat discussing the brightness of the stars – so, how was it missed?

One theory suggests that a freak weather event created the phenomenon, which possibly both obscured the iceberg until it was too late and hindered communication with a nearby ship.

Historian and broadcaster Tim Maltin claims the Titanic’s crew fell victim to a thermal inversion, which is caused by a band of cold air forcing itself underneath a band of warmer air, the Times reports.

He believes that the cold current in the North Atlantic Ocean called Labrador pushed this cold air beneath the warm Gulf Stream, creating a mirage.

It was a clear, starry sky above the Titanic as it struck an iceberg in the night of April 14, 1912 (pictured: the actual iceberg which sank the ship, photographed from nearby German ship Prinz Adalbert)

It was a clear, starry sky above the Titanic as it struck an iceberg in the night of April 14, 1912 (pictured: the actual iceberg which sank the ship, photographed from nearby German ship Prinz Adalbert)

Titanic had been sailing smoothly for the majority of the journey's intended distance disaster struck. The wreck of Titanic now lies 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada

Titanic had been sailing smoothly for the majority of the journey’s intended distance disaster struck. The wreck of Titanic now lies 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada 

Titanic: Basic facts  

Constructed by Belfast-based shipbuilders Harland and Wolff between 1909 and 1912, RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat of her time.

Owned and operated by the White Star Line, the passenger vessel set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.

The liner made two short stops en route to her planned Atlantic crossing – one at the French port of Cherbourg, the other at Cork Harbour, Ireland, where smaller vessels ferried passengers on and off board the Titanic.

On April 14, Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping. 

The ship sank two hours and 40 minutes later, in the early hours of April 15. An estimated 1,517 people died. 

The light rays are bent downwards, which creates the illusion that the horizon is higher than it actually is.

The scattered light also creates a haze lingering over the water, which Maltin believes likely hid the iceberg behind it in the moonless night.

Those on the vantage point, the crow’s nest of the ship, likely will have only seen the gap between true horizon and the refracted one as a haze.

This ‘haze’ was later described by surviving crew members as well as other ships in the area at the time.

The survivor and rescuer reports clearly indicate a thermal inversion being present that night, according to Maltin, author of Titanic: A Very Deceiving Night.

Lookouts later said the iceberg had looked dark as the haze blurred its lines and made it difficult to set apart from the sea.

‘The reason why the berg appeared to be dark was because they were seeing it against a lighter haze,’ Maltin told the Times.

James Moody was on night watch when the collision happened and took the call from the watchman, asking him ‘What do you see?’ The man responded: ‘Iceberg, dead ahead.’

By 2.20am, with hundreds of people still on board, the ship plunged beneath the waves, taking more than 1,500, including Moody, with it.

Among the nearby ships which might have been able to help save some of the 2,240 passengers and crew was the SS Californian, which failed to communicate with the Titanic and spot that it was sinking because of the haze.

It wasn’t carrying any passengers and would have had plenty of space for the people on Titanic. 

Due to the false horizon, crewmembers on the SS Californian thought they were looking at a much smaller ship that was closer to them, Maltin theorised.

One theory suggests that a freak weather event created the phenomenon, which possibly both obscured the iceberg until it was too late and hindered communication with a nearby ship

One theory suggests that a freak weather event created the phenomenon, which possibly both obscured the iceberg until it was too late and hindered communication with a nearby ship

Pictured, the SS Californian. While captained by Stanley Lord, this steamship was on her way to Boston, Massachusetts when Titanic sank

Pictured, the SS Californian. While captained by Stanley Lord, this steamship was on her way to Boston, Massachusetts when Titanic sank

Newspaper headlines proclaimed a 'great loss of life' when the famous Titanic sank on its maiden voyage over a century ago

Newspaper headlines proclaimed a ‘great loss of life’ when the famous Titanic sank on its maiden voyage over a century ago

Photo shows Cyril Furmstone Evans, the wireless operator aboard the SS Californian that night

Photo shows Cyril Furmstone Evans, the wireless operator aboard the SS Californian that night 

They thought as a small vessel, the other ship would not be equipped with a wireless operator, and therefore concluded the best way to communicate with the Titanic would be via a powerful morse lamp.

This was briefly spotted by those on the Titanic, as Colonel Archibald Gracie, who survived the tragedy, later said.

He told how he pointed out a ‘bright white light’ to other passengers, which he believed to come from a ship ‘about five miles off’.

‘But instead of growing brighter [when I leaned over the rail of the ship], we men saw the light fade and then pass altogether,’ Colonel Gracie was quoted as saying in the book ‘Titanic: A Survivor’s Story by Colonel Archibald Gracie’ by Deborah Collcutt.

The morse code sent from the SS Californian to the Titanic and back was distorted by the haze and therefore they couldn’t effectively communicate, Maltin argues.

Why were there not enough lifeboats?

Famously, Titanic did not have enough lifeboats to hold the 2,224 souls on board. If it had, many more hundreds – if not all – of the lives that were lost that night could have been saved.

Titanic had a total of 20 lifeboats, which all together could accommodate 1,178 people, just over half of the total (although two of these boats weren’t launched when the ship went down).

There are several suggestions as to why there weren’t more. Firstly, it was said that Titanic’s designers felt too many lifeboats would clutter the deck and obscure views of the sea for first class passengers.

Looking at a plan of Titanic, the lifeboats were mostly kept on the officers’ promenade towards the front and the second class promenade towards the back.

The first class promenade, meanwhile, was almost completely free of lifeboats, meaning the first class passengers could stroll and admire clear views of the Atlantic on either side.

Although it seems unthinkable now, Titanic’s selling point was clearly its grandeur and luxury, not its safety.

Lifeboats row away from the still lighted ship on April 15, 1912, as depicted in this British newspaper sketch

Lifeboats row away from the still lighted ship on April 15, 1912, as depicted in this British newspaper sketch

Plan of Titanic's boat deck from above, showing the location of the lifeboats. The main lifeboats are marked in green, while the two smaller 'emergency' wooden boats are highlighted in red. Two of the collapsible lifeboats are marked in purple. The other two collapsible lifeboats (not on this diagram) were situated on the roof of the officers' quarters behind the wheelhouse. Note the lifeboat-free space in the first class promenade in the centre

Plan of Titanic’s boat deck from above, showing the location of the lifeboats. The main lifeboats are marked in green, while the two smaller ’emergency’ wooden boats are highlighted in red. Two of the collapsible lifeboats are marked in purple. The other two collapsible lifeboats (not on this diagram) were situated on the roof of the officers’ quarters behind the wheelhouse. Note the lifeboat-free space in the first class promenade in the centre 

Additionally, it wasn’t anticipated that Titanic would need its lifeboats to hold all passengers at the same time.

Instead, if Titanic were to encounter any trouble, its lifeboats were to be used to ferry passengers off Titanic and onto a rescue ship.

Tragically, many of Titanic’s lifeboats that did launch weren’t filled to capacity, because certain crew members mistakenly thought they couldn’t hold the weight.

What happened to the Captain? 

Captain Edward Smith died the night the Titanic went down, but what exactly happened to him remains much more of a mystery. 

Smith – who had planned to make the Titanic his final voyage before retiring – ‘went down with the ship’, which was the maritime tradition at the time.

But there were several different accounts from survivors of where he was last seen and how he died.

In Cameron’s 1997 film, Smith, played by English actor Bernard Hill, is shown shutting himself in the wheelhouse on Titanic’s bridge as it fills with water, allegedly based on testimony from some survivors. 

Smith – who had planned to make the Titanic his final voyage before retiring – 'went down with the ship', which was the maritime tradition at the time

Smith – who had planned to make the Titanic his final voyage before retiring – ‘went down with the ship’, which was the maritime tradition at the time

One of which, first-class passenger Robert Williams Daniel, said: ‘I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him.

‘The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith’s waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero.’

Other survivors, including wireless operator Harold Bride, said they’d seen him jump off certain parts of the ship, while others still said Smith had swum to lifeboats holding an infant.

As author Wyn Craig Wade wrote in his 1992 book ‘The Titanic: End of a Dream’, Captain Smith ‘had at least five different deaths, from heroic to ignominious’.

However he perished, Smith’s body was never found.

Why was the ship going so fast?  

The judge who led the British inquiry into the Titanic disaster, John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount Mersey, wrote in his journal that the ship was travelling at ‘excessive speed’ and there was ‘no reduction of speed’ in the icy environment.

The ‘unsinkable’ liner was going at around 22.5 knots or 25 miles per hour, just 0.5 knots below its top speed of 23 knots. 

In James Cameron’s 1997 film ‘Titanic’, White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay is depicted urging Captain Smith to increase the speed to get into New York ahead of schedule and ‘make the headlines’.

This scene was based on a genuine conversation overheard by first-class passenger and survivor Elizabeth Lindsey Lines, who testified after the sinking.

Her testimony suggests Ismay wanted to beat a record set by Titanic’s sister ship, the RMS Olympic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York the year before.

Olympic set sail from Southampton on June 14, 1911, calling at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland (the same route as Titanic) before reaching New York six days later, on June 21 that year.

Mrs Lines said: ‘I heard him [Ismay] make the statement: “We will beat the Olympic and get in to New York on Tuesday.”‘

However, Royal Museums Greenwich claims stories of the captain trying to make a speed record are ‘without substance’, despite the testimony from Mrs Lines.

Another theory posited in 2004 by a US engineer was that a smoldering coal fire in the depths of Titanic meant the ship had to get to New York faster than originally planned.

According to Robert Essenhigh at Ohio State University, Titanic’s records show there was a fire one of Titanic’s coal bunkers, forward bunker #6.

Increasing the rate at which the coal in this bunker was removed and put into the boilers would have allowed the ship’s workers to control the fire, but this would have sped the ship up, he said.

Essenhigh claimed the crew of the Titanic couldn’t have been trying to break any records crossing the Atlantic because the ship was built for comfort, not speed – and was advertised as such before its voyage.

The theory was repeated in the 2017 documentary ‘Titanic: The New Evidence’ by Irish journalist Senan Molony, who said Titanic ‘should never have been put to sea’ because the fire supposedly weakened her hull, which took the impact from the iceberg.



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