By Lawrence Lufkin
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Frozen in time for me was when I heard from a bank teller, while I was making a transaction, that a passenger jet had just hit the Pentagon... At the time, I was working at a restaurant where I live in Framingham, Massachusetts. When I returned from the bank, my staff was in the dining room watching the news in horror. I, too, watched the screen in disbelief as the huge Twin Towers were billowing smoke into the sky. I assumed that eventually the fires would be put out and that only some people would be injured or killed. I remember while viewing the 9-11 tragedy that back in 1945 the Empire State Building had received a direct hit from a B-25 twin-engine bomber when, in heavy fog, it crashed into the 79th floor. Amazingly the building survived. I thought that certainly the World Trade Center Twin Towers would have been constructed strong enough to survive a plane crash, but sadly, I was wrong. Also being a Titanic buff, I thought back to the many questions surrounding the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic, and how people were shocked and saddened because of this horrific event and in a quandary as to how the Titanic, a “Monmouth Wonder” could possibly flounder. I thought, it took almost 92 years to unravel some of the mysteries, situations, and circumstances involved in the demise of the Titanic, how long would it take, I question, to discover the events, situations, and circumstances surrounding the 9-11 attack and the destruction of the Twin Towers?
Over time, it was revealed that the designer of the Twin Towers, completed in 1971, did not foresee the possibility that an invention of a plane, such as the Boeing 747, loaded with fuel, could be used as a terrorist weapon of devastating destruction. A weapon that due partially to the design, construction, and materials used in the Towers would lead to the Towers’ destruction. I was in a quandary as to how the collapse of the Towers was possible as people of the Titanic time were in a quandary as to how the Titanic floundered. Through various television documentaries and reading newspapers and magazine articles, I began to understand how the destruction of the Towers might have occurred. It was revealed that the steel bolts that held the structural beams were of insufficient strength to withstand the plane collision. The failure of the steel bolts caused the floor joists to collapse and then floor after floor collapsed until the Towers were completely destroyed.
Also, the lack of adequate fireproofing surrounding key structural elements resulted in the heat from the raging fire twisting steel beams and supports until the integrity of the mammoth structure was weakened. This, too, was an additional fatal flaw in design and construction of the Towers that exacerbated the loss of property and lives. It occurred to me that in terms of design, construction and materials, that there were some parallels between the Twin Towers and Titanic disasters.
Because of my intense interest in the Titanic, a fascination which began in my youth, I saw similarities between some of the fatal flaws in the design, construction and materials employed in the building of the Titanic as well as fatal flaws in the design, construction, and materials employed in the building of the Twin Towers. These were fatal flaws that exacerbate the total destruction of both the Twin Towers and the Titanic… fatal flaws that lead to enormous loss of property and horrific loss of lives.
As a child, I read many books about the Titanic disaster. I also saw the film, “A Night to Remember.” In later years, I saw the movies, “Titanic.” After the wondrous James Cameron film, my daily life was saturated with discussion of the Titanic. As my interest in the Titanic grew, I received important information from the Titanic Society about details of the Titanic’s demise. I continue to read Titanic information and joined Titanic chat rooms to learn as much as I could about the Titanic. In 1985, I followed, with great interest, Dr. Robert Ballard’s Research team’s discovery of the location of the wreck of the Titanic. Then, in 1986, I was most interested when Ballard took the submersible ALVIN to a depth of 13,000 feet below the Atlantic and explored the Titanic’s wreckage.
Finally, Titanic’s long hidden story began to unfold and I was really excited to learn as much as I could about Ballard’s team’s discoveries. One of the many discoveries that Ballard and his team made was that the Titanic’s bow and stern sections were lying nearly 2,000 feet apart. This discovery verified what Jack Thayer, a survivor of the Titanic, reported almost 74 years ago. Throughout Jack’s life, he had insisted that he saw the Titanic break in two as she sank into the icy Atlantic. This new information made me wonder about the structural integrity of the steel used in the Titanic’s construction. I reasoned if buildings as massive as the World Trade Center Towers collapsed in part due to a failure in the steel used in its construction, then it was reasonable in my mind to suspect that there may have been problems associated with the steel used in the construction of the Titanic. In 1998, RMS Titanic, Inc. raised a piece of the hull of the Titanic. The steel hull plate was apply named ‘big piece.”
Living near Boston, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Titanic exhibit just after the “big piece” was brought up and put on exhibit. It was a cold and rainy day when I set out on my trip to the exhibit, located in the waterfront area of Boston, across the street from the Queen Mary pier. Arriving at the entrance, I saw dozens upon dozens of display cases filled with artifacts that had been brought up from the Titanic debris field.
What was startling to me was the condition of some of the items recovered from the sunken ship - articles of clothing, jewelry, china, crystal and many other treasured items. Some of the Titanic items were quite fragile, but appeared to be as good as when they were first manufactured.
After walking down long aisles lined with fascinating displays, I was directed to what looked like an exit. I followed the sign to an area that was actually a huge tent that had what looked like a two story tall structure in the middle. To my amazement, I realized that it was the “big piece”, a giant piece of steel hull salvaged from the Titanic wreck. A walkway surrounded the enormous section of the hull. Water that was balanced with chemicals was being sprayed onto the surface of the “big piece” to help stabilize the steel of the hull. There was a security rope to keep people away from the hull piece of the Titanic, but I could hardly resist reaching over and feeling the massive one inch thick steel plate salvaged from the Titanic and the rivets that were as solid as could possibly be. I thought, “How could such a robust structure made of this one inch thick steel with such solid rivets be opened up like a sardine can when the Titanic collided with the iceberg and then broke into enormous hunks of steel scattered 2000 feet apart when it sank into the Atlantic?” My thoughts immediately directed me to, “Who would have believed that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center would collapse when planes crashed into them?”
The collapse that was due in part to steel bolts of insufficient strength made me think, “Could there have been a problem with the steel used to construct the Titanic?” I questioned, “Had the designers and builders used a higher grade steel, could the Titanic have survived the fatal collision and not break in two?”
Subsequently, I learned there had been testing done on samples of steel brought up from the wreck as well as from a divot (slug pieces that are removed when rivet holes are drilled). Test results revealed that the steel used to build the Titanic had high sulfur content. Both the Titanic divot steel sample as well as the hull plate sample contained high sulfur content. Tests showed that the steel used to build the Titanic was so high in sulfur content that when subjected to the Charpy Test (a test to determine the fracture point of materials) found that the steel samples were brittle and fractured. These samples lacked the ductility found in a higher grade, higher priced, low sulfur content steel. Additionally, I was intrigued to learn that an accountant of Harland and Wolff, the builders of the Titanic, originally owned the supplied divot sample. The divot sample was passed down to the accountant’s son, and the son supplied the sample for testing.
I realized that these, and many other questions and thoughts about the sinking of the Titanic and the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers would never be fully answered. I, too, was aware that although technological problems existed and human error occurred in both the 9-11 and Titanic tragedies. It was failure of the mind and heart that was the true cause of the horrific events.
In the case of 9-11, the evil hearts of the terrorists were the root cause of that horror. In the case of the Titanic, the ‘penny pinching’ greed, along with putting luxury and speed ahead of safety was the root cause of the sinking of the Titanic. Contemplating, I realized that it was not fracturing or twisting of steel, but minds twisted by hate that was the precursor to the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and greed entered into the sinking of the Titanic. However, though, there were problems associated with technology in both the Twin Towers and the Titanic, there were human problems as well. For the most part, we welcome technological advances, but at times, it is not technology that is at fault, but human failure. We discover that as we go through life that ‘common sense’ is not very common and in the hearts and minds of some lays hatred and greed. These rapacious desires can turn the tools of technology into weapons of destruction.
With the direction our country has taken in the Mid-East in the past twelve months, the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and with the threat of terrorism ever present, I guess it is no wonder that the greatest ship in the world, the new Queen Mary II, a real Ocean Liner (not a “fun” cruise ship) had such a quite inaugural sailing in January 2003. The Queen Mary II located at the peer across the street from the Titanic exhibition. I remember the report of the great crowd of 100,000 who witnessed the Titanic’s inauguration, I thought; “With all the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Titanic disaster the dreams and premonitions of the Titanic’s demise, could it be possibly, that the “big piece” somehow communicated a warning to those who were going to attended the inaugural sailing of the QM2? And was this the root cause of the “quiet inaugural?” Who really knows all of the strange, situations and circumstances surrounding the events of 9-11 and the Titanic tragedy?
To discover the ramifications of technology, human error, and other situations and circumstances, investigations are launched after horrific events occur. Just as after the sinking of the Titanic, there were inquiries, court cases and intense investigations, both to discover who and what was to blame, and what could have prevented such a disaster. Now, there are the Commissions who investigated the September 11, 2001 attack. The same scenarios of investigations, both to discover who and what was to blame and what can be learned to prevent such disasters that is now underway for 9-11, and except for terrorism, also has parallels to the Titanic disaster investigations. But, in the end, I believe that investigations should reveal what we must learn to do to find ways and means to deal with greed and hatred – the ‘Hurray for me and to hell with you” attitude. If we, as a people, can solve this mystery, we will be on our way to helping the world and its people to be more kind, respectful and loving. For technology can be advanced to prevent the fracturing and twisting of steel, but only kindness, respect and love can help to heal twisted minds.
Hatred and jealousy was the root cause and precursor to the horrific tragedy of 9-11 and greed was the root cause, the precursor to the sinking of the Titanic that put luxury and speed ahead of safety and penny-pinching in material purchase and construction ahead of common sense. Now, frozen in time in my memory, are two significant emotional events. The first being: When I viewed the horrific scene of planes crashing into the World Trade Center, Twin Towers as they came tumbling down amid explosive bursts of billowing flames and smoke. The second event frozen in my memory was when I actually touched the “big piece,” the actual steel hull plate of the Titanic. It was as though I vicariously pictured those poor souls going down to their icy, watery graves as the Titanic sank.
My hope, now, is that in my lifetime, as well as in the lifetimes of others, that these frozen, horrific memories that the world observed would be melted by kindness, respect and love. This hope is especially true for the family and friends who have lost loved ones in the 9-11 terrorist attack and those who lost loved ones in the Titanic disaster.
My wish for us all is: “Smooth sailing on calm seas.”
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