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Man at Titanic wheel tells of catastrophe

NEW YORK, April 19, 1912 (UP) -- Here is the story of the man at the wheel of the Titanic when she struck the iceberg.

He is Robert Hichens, one of the six surviving quartermasters, the only man left of those on the bridge at the time of the disaster who can talk. Only one other man was as near as he to the center of action in the catastrophe, Fourth officer Boxall, and his lips are sealed under orders. The rest of those on the bridge are silenced forever.

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"It was eight o'clock Sunday night when I went on watch, and I stood by the man at the wheel most of the time until ten," says Hichens. "Then I took the wheel for two hours. On the bridge from ten were First Officer Murdock, Fourth Officer Boxall and Sixth Officer Moody.

"It was about 31 degrees, and a little after 8 o'clock Second Officer Lighttoller had sent me to instruct the carpenter to take precautions against the fresh water supply freezing. He also gave the crow's nest strict orders to keep a sharp lookout for icebergs.

"T'was 11:40 when three gongs sounded from the lookout, the signal for something right ahead.' A moment later the lookout phones the bridge there was a berg straight before us. As Murdock's hand reached for the lever to stop the engines the crash came. He stopped the engine and pulled another lever closing the watertight doors.

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"Capt. Smith hurried up from the chartroom.

"'Close the emergency doors,'" were his first words.

"'They're already closed, sir,' Murdock answered.

"'Tell the carpenter to sound the ship,' ordered the captain.

"The order was sent to the carpenter, but he never came up to report. He probably was the first man on the boat to die.

"Capt. Smith looked to the commutator. It showed the boat listed five degrees to starboard. She was rapidly settling forward, too. Capt. Smith acted quickly. He soon had the pumps working and the Marconi, sirens and rockets calling for aid.

"Everybody was ordered upon deck and into lifebelts. The stewards and sailors worked together to get the boats out.

"'Women and children first!'" was the order.

"It was 12:25 when Second Officer Lighttoller ordered me from the wheel to take charge of a boat. No one relieved me at the wheel. There were 32 women and another sailor in a small boat. We were lowered down after 1 o'clock. We were 400 yards from the Titanic when it went down, and we were picked up shortly after 4 a. m."

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