15 April 1912
- 2:20am: In the immediate aftermath of the sinking, hundreds of passengers and crew were left dying in the icy sea, surrounded by debris from the ship. Titanic’s disintegration during her descent to the seabed caused buoyant chunks of debris – timber beams, wooden doors, furniture, paneling and chunks of cork from the bulkheads – to rocket to the surface. These injured and possibly killed some of the swimmers; others used the debris to try to keep themselves afloat.
The water was lethally cold, with a temperature of 28 °F (−2 °C). Second Officer Lightoller described the feeling of “a thousand knives” being driven into his body as he entered the sea. Some of those in the water would have died almost instantly from heart attacks caused by the sudden stress on their cardiovascular systems. Others progressed through the classic symptoms of hypothermia: extreme shivering at first, followed by a slowing and weakening pulse as body temperature dropped, before finally losing consciousness and dying.
Those in the lifeboats were horrified to hear the sound of what Lawrence Beesley called “every possible emotion of human fear, despair, agony, fierce resentment and blind anger mingled – I am certain of those – with notes of infinite surprise, as though each one were saying, ‘How is it possible that this awful thing is happening to me? That I should be caught in this death trap?’" Jack Thayer compared it to the sound of “locusts on a summer night”, while George Rheims, who jumped moments before Titanic sank, described it as “a dismal moaning sound which I won’t ever forget; it came from those poor people who were floating around, calling for help. It was horrifying, mysterious, supernatural.”
After about twenty minutes, the cries began to fade as the swimmers lapsed into unconsciousness and death.