| A picture of the Titanic. (Reuters)
London, Oct. 29 (Reuters): The Titanic’s stern pointed directly up at the night sky and stayed there for a full two minutes before slowly sinking into the depths, according to a dramatic account of the luxury liner’s last moments released today.
“There was heard a rumbling and crashing from inside the ship, like the sound of distant thunder,” wrote Second Officer Charles Lightoller, the highest ranking crew member to survive the 1912 disaster.
“It was just on two ’clock when she assumed the absolute perpendicular and stood there for a space of about two minutes, an amazing spectacle, with her stern straight up in the air. Then first slowly, but with increasing speed, she quietly slipped beneath the water.”
His 17-page account of the sinking will go under the hammer at London auction house Sotheby’s on December 2 along with other Titanic lots expected to fetch £30,000 ($50,000).
More than 1,500 people died when the supposedly unsinkable passenger liner hit an iceberg and sank off Newfoundland in April 1912. Lightoller describes the “cold, green water crawling its ghostly way up the staircase” after the ship hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage.
An officer handed him a revolver as the ship began to sink, saying: “You may need it”. Lightoller said he used the gun to force men out of a lifeboat to make way for women and children. “They hopped out and I encouraged them by wildly flourishing the revolver,” he wrote in extracts published in newspapers today.
Lightoller stayed with the stricken liner even as it began to list badly.
“Nearly everyone instinctively started to climb towards the stern, which was still high out of the water.”
He describes how the “huddled mass” of bodies was washed along the deck and he decided to dive into the freezing water, wearing only a sweater over his pyjamas. “I was quickly drowning when a terrific blast of hot air came up the shaft and blew me to the surface,” he says.
He watched the boat slip beneath the waves as he hung on to a piece of debris. Lightoller was the last person to be rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia and became a key witness at inquiries into the sinking.
Born in Lancashire, northwest England in 1874, Lightoller went to sea for the first time at 13 and survived four other shipwrecks.
In 1898 he joined the Klondike gold rush in Canada and spent a period as a cowboy before returning to sea.
He briefly put his adventures behind him after World War One when he opened a guest house.
But he returned to action in July 1939 when the British navy asked him to survey the German coastline with his wife under the guise of an elderly couple on a boating holiday.
He died in 1952.