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Why Didn't the Lookout on the Titanic See the Iceberg?

The good news for Second Officer David Blair: He was reassigned at the last minute and did not sail on the Titanic's maiden voyage. The bad news: He reportedly forgot to hand over the keys to a locker in the ship's crow's nest. Those keys would have enabled his shipmates to access a pair of binoculars, vital for those on designated lookout in the icy North Atlantic, where icebergs are always a danger.

There was no sonar in 1912, and when the Titanic famously found one of those icebergs, 1,522 lives were lost during the ship's sinking. Fred Fleet, a crewman who survived the disaster, later testified at an official inquiry that if they had had those binoculars, they would have seen the danger sooner. How much sooner? “Enough to get out of the way," he said.

A key event on the Titanic:

  • The 37-year-old Blair was supposed to be the second officer on the Titanic's voyage to New York. The White Star Line, the ship's owners, replaced Blair with someone more experienced on large ocean liners.
  • The key was auctioned off in 2007. "We think this key is one of the most important artifacts from the Titanic,” the auctioneers said at the time. “The key that had the potential to save the Titanic."
  • Blair had passed the key on to his daughter, who gave it to the International Sailors Society. It was sold to Shen Dongjun, CEO of a Chinese jewelry retailer for £90,000 (more than $129,000 US), and is currently on display in Nanjing.
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