10 Major Historical Mistakes That Changed the World Forever

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The Titanic’s Lookouts Had No Binoculars

Just before the Titanic sailed from Southampton to New York on April 10th, 1912, its operators replaced the second officer, David Blair, with the more experienced Charles Lightoller. However, Blair never got around to giving, and Lightoller never got around to asking for, the keys to a locker that contained the ship’s binoculars. So the Titanic sailed on its maiden voyage with lookouts who lacked binoculars.

Astonishingly, at no point during the days-long voyage before disaster struck, did anybody in charge figure out that binoculars might be necessary for lookouts. Or if they did, then in an even more astonishing display of mistaken priorities, they did not deem the safety of the ship worth breaking the lock to get the binoculars. That poor cost-benefit analysis would produce tragic results.

Four days into the Titanic’s voyage, around 11:40PM on the night of April 14th, 1912, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg in the ship’s path, and alerted the bridge. The officer in charge ordered the engines stopped and the ship steered around the obstacle. Unfortunately, given the distance to the iceberg when the alarm was sounded, the Titanic’s speed at the time, and the ship’s mass, disaster was inevitable. Basic physics made it impossible for the mammoth ship to maneuver away in time to avoid a collision. The “unsinkable” Titanic struck the iceberg, and sank.

Of the 2224 passengers and crew aboard the ship, over 1500 lost their lives, making it one of modern history’s worst peacetime maritime disasters. In the subsequent investigation, lookout Frederick Fleet testified that he would have spotted the iceberg sooner, and the ship would thus have had more reaction time to steer away from a collision, if he’d only had binoculars.

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