For Record: Titanic `Practically Unsinkable'

WASHINGTON - More than 80 years after the "unsinkable" Titanic sank, a team of top U.S. naval architects and marine engineers is endorsing previous Canadian findings about the cause of the tragedy, asserting the case can now be closed.

The luxury liner, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 with 2,222 passengers on board after striking an iceberg, was built with unsafe metals, had faulty rivets, was running on a rudder too small to steer it safely and was traveling too fast for icy waters, the team's report found.

The report even pointed a finger at the news media for some of the Titanic's bad image. It said that in writings about the famous ship, the press dropped "practically" from quotes of Thomas Andrews, a managing director of the company that built the ship. In fact, Andrews had declared: "The Titanic is practically unsinkable."

U.S. makes its own report

These are the conclusions that were scheduled for release in Arlington, Va., today by the five-member team of researchers who studied the sinkings of the Titanic and the Lusitania, which went down in 1915 after being hit by a German torpedo.

The group, which included David Brown, a top British naval historian and architect, will release "A Final Forensic Analysis" to the Chesapeake section of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

But the United States had yet to develop its own findings on the luxury ships' demises, according to William Garzke Jr., the

principal author of the report and a naval engineer. Garzke's group used reports, forensic evidence and photographs of the wreckage.

The Titanic gained widespread attention and was filled with celebrities and members of high society when it departed on its maiden voyage from England to New York. When it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, 400 miles east of Newfoundland, the world's largest passenger liner at the time went under in 2 1/2 hours, killing 1,517 passengers and leaving 705 survivors, mostly children.

Two child survivors, including 7-year-old Eva Hart, now the oldest survivor, told investigators that the ship actually split in half at the surface before it went under. However, reports from older survivors at the time contended the ship sank intact, an idea upheld by Great Britain's investigative team, the Mersey Commission, in 1912-13.

Survivor's account vindicated

But Canadian researchers reopened the inquiry in 1991, and Garzke's group soon followed.

Garzke said his group's review of the past decade's research on the Titanic and separate testing vindicates Hart's claim. "Eva Hart is correct," Garzke said. "She always felt that the ship broke apart at the surface."

Other findings by the group included:

-- The metal makeup of the steel plates used were standard for the time but would never be strong enough for the ship's construction.

"If you hit (the steel) with a hammer it could crack at that point," Garzke said. When the ship split, "the stress was beyond the steel's capabilities, and that's when the fractures started," he said.

-- The cold punching of the steel plates created microscopic cracks around the rivets.

-- The rudder was deficient in size for the Titanic. "Its rudder was not efficient, which gave it less turning ability," Garzke said.

-- The ship was traveling too fast for the ice-filled North Atlantic waters.

FACTS ABOUT THE TITANIC -------------------------------------- Name: R.M.S. Titanic Type: British luxury passenger liner Length: 882.5 feet Gross tonnage: 46,328 Port of departure: Southhampton, England Destination: New York City Date sank: April 14-15, 1912 Passengers and crew killed: 1,517 Survivors: 705 Wreckage location: About 400 miles southeast of Newfoundland, at a depth of 12,500 feet Wreckage discovered: Sept. 1, 1985 Knight-Ridder Newspapers