Let me share with you two stories that happened within two years of each other in the second decade of the Twentieth Century.
The first you will know. On April 15, 1912, on which the Titanic plunged 12,000 feet to the Atlantic floor, some two hours and forty minutes after an iceberg tore a 300-foot gash in the starboard side. As one survivor put it - "I saw all the horror of its sinking, and I heard, even more dreadful, the cries of drowning people."
We all know the fact that there were not enough life boats, but even taking that into account - far more people drowned than needed to. When the twenty life boats were launched, almost all of them were only partly full. One sole Lifeboat No. 14 did row back to the scene after the unsinkable ship slipped from sight at 2:20 A.m. Alone, it chased cries in the darkness, seeking and saving a precious few. Incredibly, no other boat joined it.
The other 19 boats hung back. They heard cries of people in the water. Those people had lifejackets. They clung to bits of wreckage. Very few of them drowned. Most of them died slowly of hypothermia. And 19 boats sat there, heard their cries and didn’t save anyone.
Why? Because of fear. They feared that a crush of swimmers would cling to their craft, swamp the boats and perhaps, perhaps they too would drown. Note that no one drowned in boat 14, the boat that went back. But out of fear not one of the other boats went back
Meanwhile, December 5th 1914, Ernest Shackleton and a team set out on a challenge - to cross Antartica from one side to the other. Only a few years earlier Roald Amundsen had just become the first person to reach the south pole. The one remaining challenge was to cross the icy continent from one side to another. On Dec 5 1914 Shackleton set out for the Weddell sea on the ship Endurance with a crew of 27 men. Just a few days out from South Georgia, the ship encountered mile after mile of pack ice and became stuck as he described it “like an almond in a piece of toffee”
The Endurance was stranded for 10 months until on Nov 21 1915 they had to abandon ship as it was crushed by the pressure of ice - three life boats headed for tiny Elephant Island, as they watched their crushed vessel sink like the Titanic to the bottom of the sea. There on the desolate Elephant Island, Shackleton left behind all but five men - and set out on a hazardous 800 mile journey to find help - which eventually he did, returning to the crew mates. All this while the first world war was raging around them.
Two stories about sinking ships. But the amazing thing about this second story is that through the whole ordeal - not one person died! There are no stories of people eating each other; no mutiny; no fighting about who gets into the life rafts, no abandoning of other people to die.
This is only two years after the Titanic - yet on the Titanic - because people acted out of fear, they let others drown. Here because people acted as a team everyone survived. No one was left behind - they came back and rescued every last member of the expedition.
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