Titanic look-out takes his own life
At 10pm on Sunday 14 April 1912, 24 year old Frederick Fleet and his companion Reginald Lee climbed the fifty feet to the crow’s nest half way up RMS Titanic’s foremast. It was, in his own words, ‘the beautifullest night I had ever seen. The stars were like lamps’. Four hundred miles off the Newfoundland coastline though, it was especially cold and he had been instructed by the officer of the watch to keep a careful lookout for ice.
At some point in the next 2 hours – witnesses would later give different testimonies as to the exact time – Fleet saw ‘a black object, high above the water, right ahead’ and fearing it was an iceberg he rang the crow’s nest bell and telephoned the bridge but to his amazement, he claimed no-one answered. The iceberg was about 10 miles away with Titanic steaming directly towards it at a speed of 22 knots – less than 25 minutes away.
Fleet repeatedly telephoned the bridge before his calls were answered and when he finally managed to pass his message, it was too late. It is estimated that within a minute of Fleet’s message, Titanic struck the iceberg and within 3 hours it had sunk. Almost one thousand five hundred people perished but over seven hundred survived.
One of those was Frederick Fleet, the man who first saw the fatal obstacle. As he rowed one of the lifeboats away from the sinking vessel he earnestly related his experience and expressed a fear that he would be blamed for the disaster. A later inquiry would cast doubt on the timing of events he provided.
Fleet later served on the Cunard and Union Castle lines until he finally retired when he took up selling the Daily Echo newspapers on the streets of Southampton.