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Sunday, February 15, 1998 Published at 15:24 GMT


Going, going, gone ... down

Ominous words: "We have struck an iceberg"

Old and new Titanic fanatics can get one step closer to history on Tuesday when Christie's will auction dramatic telegraph messages detailing what happened before the great ship went down.

The offerings include a printed telegraph message from the Titanic announcing "We have struck an iceberg." Other messages - received and sent by nearby ships - detail the Titanic's distress calls and foreboding exchanges warning of the dangerous ice conditions before the tragedy.

The telegraphs were written by Telegraph Marconi operators aboard various ships, who alerted one another to potential dangerous conditions, such as weather, wind and ice. After translating the Morse code, the operators printed the messages, called Marconi signals, and handed the messages to the captain or the crew.

[ image: Only 703 passengers were rescued from the Titanic]
Only 703 passengers were rescued from the Titanic
Despite these warnings of perilous ice conditions in the North Atlantic, Titanic's Captain Smith travelled full speed ahead in an effort to break speed records during the ship's maiden voyage.

Seeming to ignore the dangers, Captain Smith responded to one of the warnings, "Thanks for the message and information. Have had variable weather throughout."

But at 11 pm the same day, the Titanic sent its sister ship, the Olympic, another message: "Titanic sending out signals of distress _ We have struck an iceberg."

Forty minutes after the collision, the Olympic received another signal, "We are putting the passengers off in small boats."

In the wake of Titanic - the film

Titanic sank on April 14-15, 1912, en route to New York City from Southampton on its maiden voyage. About 1,500 died in the icy water about 400 miles (640 km) south of Newfoundland.

The British passenger liner was, at that time, the largest and most luxurious afloat - and was considered to be unsinkable. Shortly before midnight on April 14, the ship collided with an iceberg; five of its watertight compartments were ruptured, causing the ship to sink at 2:20 am April 15.

[ image: The movie Titanic painstakinly re-created the luxury of the ship]
The movie Titanic painstakinly re-created the luxury of the ship
The Titanic's sinking has always been the stuff of legend. But interest in the tragedy has soared in recent months with the release of James Cameron's hit film "Titanic", which recently was nominated for 14 Academy Awards.

Christie's insists that the sale of the Titanic telegrams has nothing to do with the release - or success - of the film. The Christie's maritime sale is always held in February, according to a Christie's spokeswoman, and sellers generally decide what to offer up by summer.

Nevertheless, the auction house is just as happy for the added publicity. The telegrams are estimated to sell for between $1,000 - $6,500 (588 - 3823).

Christie's East Maritime sale will take place in New York City on February 17. The pre-sale exhibition runs from February 13 to February 16.

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