On April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic, flagship of the White Star Line, struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. Two hours and twenty minutes later she broke in two and sank, taking with her over 1500 lives. Both the American and the British government launched inquiries into the accident. In the U.S. the Titanic hearings began on April 19, 1912, at he Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. In total, 82 witnesses testified, published in 1163 pages titled “Titanic” Disaster: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, United States Senate, Sixty-Second Congress, Second Session, Pursuant to S. Res. 283, Directing the Committee on Commerce to Investigate the Causes Leading to the Wreck of the White Star Liner “Titanic.” (Note to James Cameron: They preferred longer titles back then)
The relevant documents:
Senate Document 62 726
Senate Document 62 933
Senate Report 62 806
From the testimony of Olaus Abelseth, 26, a Norwegian homesteader living in South Dakota:
"I was standing there, and I asked my brother-in-law if he could swim and he said no. I asked my cousin if he could swim and he said no. So we could see the water coming up, the bow of the ship was going down, and there was a kind of an explosion. We could hear the popping and cracking, and the deck raised up and got so steep that the people could not stand on their feet on the deck. So they fell down and slid on the deck into the water right on the ship. Then we hung onto a rope in one of the davits. We were pretty far back at the top deck.
My brother-in-law said to me, "We had better jump off or the suction will take us down." I said, "No. We won't jump yet. We ain't got much show anyhow, so we might as well stay as long as we can." So he stated again, "We must jump off.," But I said, "No; not yet." So, then, it was only about 5 feet down to the water when we jumped off. It was not much of a jump. Before that we could see the people were jumping over. There was water coming onto the deck, and they were jumping over, then, out in the water.
My brother-in-law took my hand just as we jumped off; and my cousin jumped at the same time. When we came into the water, I think it was from the suction – or anyway we went under, and I swallowed some water. I got a rope tangled around me, and I let loose of my brother-in-law's hand to get away from the rope. I thought then, "I am a goner." That is what I thought when I got tangled up in this rope. But I came on top again, and I was trying to swim, and there was a man – lots of them were floating around – and he got me on the neck like that (illustrating) and pressed me under, trying to get on top of me. I said to him, "Let go." Of course, he did not pay any attention to that, but I got away from him. Then there was another man, and he hung on to me for a while, but he let go. Then I swam; I could not say, but it must have been about 15 or 20 minutes. It could not have been over that. Then I saw something dark ahead of me. I did not know what it was, but I swam toward that, and it was one of those collapsible boats."