April 15, 1912
North Atlantic Ocean
The RMS Titanic sinks, taking the lives of more than 1,500 people
The Titanic struck an iceberg during the late hours of April 14. The reasons why the accident occurred — including the ship’s crew ignoring warnings of sea ice from other vessels and failing to see the fateful iceberg until it was too late to avoid — are debated to this day.
One theory proposes the iceberg was hidden by thermal inversion, light refracted by layers of cold and warm air meeting to create an optical illusion (similar to a road reflecting the sky on hot day), which combined with a moonless night gave a false horizon and masked the iceberg. This would also account for signal flares from the sinking ship being ignored by a passing ship. The Smithsonian does a remarkable job illustrating this theory.
Regardless of why the ship collided with the iceberg, the Titanic began taking on water. Already equipped with an inadequate number of lifeboats to secure the lives of all the ship’s crew and passengers, the issue was further exacerbated by releasing lifeboats before they were completely full. This resulted in over 1,000 people left aboard the sinking Titanic; between 1,490 and 1,635 lives were lost. The Titanic was fully submerged on April 15, approximately 2 and a half hours after striking the iceberg.
The mismanagement of loading people onto the lifeboats and the lax regulations concerning the number of lifeboats required contributed heavily to the number of deaths. Because of this, new standards were put in place including the founding of The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), established to regulate minimum safety standards.