The iceberg that collided with the Titanic on April 14, 1912, was likely made of ice that was 3,000 to 6,000 years old and was one of 400 icebergs annually “calved” off the coast of Greenland. Prior to 1913, there was no systematic way of monitoring the potentially dangerous presence of icebergs in the North Atlantic shipping lanes.
In the aftermath of the Titanic disaster, however, the International Ice Patrol was formed. Headquartered in New London at the , the IIP has continuously monitored iceberg presence in the North Atlantic for the last 99 years.
According to Lisa Mack, Coast Guard commander of the International Ice Patrol, members of the IIP have annually dropped two or three memorial wreaths at the site of the Titanic disaster since about 1923. This year, however, the Patrol has 10 wreaths to drop to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking.
Traditional annual wreath donors are the Titanic Historical Society, the Titanic International Organization and of New London. Among the other donors this year are the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Ship Society of South Africa and a fourth-grade class from the Knapp Charter Academy of Grand Rapids, MI.
The actual site of the sinking is approximately 375 nautical miles from New London. The C-130 Hercules cargo plane from Elizabeth City, NC, that carried the IIP crew was scheduled first to fly to St. John’s, Newfoundland, prior to setting out on its iceberg-monitoring mission. Generally, the plane will fly at between 1,000 and 5,000 feet during its mission, depending upon cloud cover. However, for the wreath drop, the plane will descend to an altitude of only 200 to 400 feet. Two Coast Guardsmen strapped into seats facing the rear of the plane will cast the wreaths out of the open cargo door.
There are 16 members assigned to the IIP; 14 of them are from the U.S. Coast Guard and two are civilians. One of them, Lt. Erin (Long) Christensen formerly of Killingworth, CT, is a 2002 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and a 1998 graduate of Haddam-Killingworth High School. She is the operations officer for the IIP.
Christensen said that being part of the IIP is the “most unique and interesting” assignment that she has had as a member of the Coast Guard. She has been with the IIP for about a year and has gone on a search mission for icebergs twice. The typical tour of duty with the IIP is about three years.
According to Christensen, once the “bergs” are pinpointed from the air, a computer program known as “bergtracker” with a GPS feed precisely locates the iceberg. Then, another software program known as “BAPS” projects its future path. Two useful products result from this process: a textual iceberg bulletin document and a visual chart. Both of these documents are readily available to mariners to help insure their safety.
According to Cmdr. Mack, there has not been an iceberg collision in the North Atlantic that has resulted in a loss of human life since 1959, when the Hans Hedtoft, on its way to Copenhagen, struck a berg on its maiden voyage, and 95 people died. She also recommended that anyone interested in viewing data regarding ship/iceberg collisions in the North Atlantic should view a website established by Canadian Brian T. Hill: http://www.icedata.ca/Pages/ShipCollisions/ShipCol_OnlineSearch.php
In viewing this site, it is clear that many hundreds of people have lost their lives in collisions with icebergs in the North Atlantic. Prior to the Titanic disaster of 1912, Hill’s data shows that the previous largest loss of life due to a collision with an iceberg occurred on March 1, 1854, and involved the S.S. City of Glasgow. The Glasgow had left Liverpool and was headed for Philadelphia when it struck an iceberg. All 480 people onboard perished. However, thanks to the vigilance of the International Ice Patrol, new technology, and people like Lisa Mack and Erin Christensen, a collision with an iceberg is now a rare event in the North Atlantic.