Titanic's Final Mysteries revisits the legendary events surrounding R.M.S. Titanic's maiden voyage, collision with the iceberg, sinking, and aftermath in April 1912. This documentary from the Smithsonian Channel also attempts to target specific elements of the tragedy and investigate new theories explaining how standard maritime practices and what was then considered to be common sense resulted in such a spectacular failure and loss of life. Was the disaster in any way due to faulty shipbuilding? mishandling by the crew? negligence and hubris on the part of the White Star Line? Or was it a freak accident, the culmination of numerous improbable events conspiring to sink Titanic and rock the Gilded Age sensibilities to their very core? This documentary revisits old assumptions and expounds upon unexplained evidence and the results of new research.
As many Titanic documentaries and narratives do, this 92 minute film begins with an overview of the disaster, retelling a now familiar story of Titanic's life beginning with her construction in Belfast, the delay of her maiden voyage to April 1912, and presents several of the details of Titanic's final moments as she strikes the iceberg, signals for help, and sinks. Titanic researcher Tim Maltin mentions several critical details whose investigation the rest of the film pursues.
Ships of this era routinely passed full speed through areas reported to contain ice under the assumption that, on a clear night, anything large enough to pose a threat to the ship would be large enough to be seen and consequently avoided. Second, once it became clear to Titanic's officers that she would sink, efforts to contact a seemingly nearby ship - a "light" off the horizon to the north - via radio, distress rockets, and Morse lamps all seemed to fail. Crew members on the ship in question, the Californian, reported sighting a medium sized steamer relatively near to their location that seemed to have stopped for the night. Its Morse lamp flickered randomly, and their unwillingness to contact the ship via radio left them baffled by this steamer's actions until it seemed to "steam away" later that morning. Inquiries into the tragedy have not precisely determined the distance between Californian and Titanic but agree that it may have been as close as 10 miles away and fully capable of initiating a rescue of the freezing passengers.
Maltin believes he has an explanation for this unusual visual phenomena. He spends directs of the film's investigative focus on water currents of the North Atlantic. Much of Titanic's voyage was spent following a Great Circle arc from the United Kingdom southwest toward North America enjoying pleasant weather due to warm currents from the Gulf Stream. In the final day of Titanic's voyage, it "turned the corner" heading due West directly into the icy Labrador Current. This is an ocean current that transports freezing cold water south along Greenland and Newfoundland. April 1912 was particularly icy, with the Labrador Current sending thick fields of ice and disjoint icebergs further south than usual into the shipping lanes. Moreover, the south-moving cold water currents created abrupt temperature gradients in the air just above the ocean's surface. While conditions were calm, the freezing water created a layer of intensely cold air under layers of warm air. This unusual temperature inversion would be shown to have a strong impact on visibility conditions during that fateful night.
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