Fleet was born in Liverpool, England. Before joining the crew of Titanic, he had sailed for over four years as a lookout in Oceanic. He also served on the Titanic's sister ship Olympic from 1920 to 1935 and signed on as ship's lookout and able seaman.
The Titanic crew had been warned multiple times of dangerous pack ice in the area, but did nothing to decrease their speed. The lookouts also had no binoculars.
On the night of Sunday 14 April, Fleet was stationed in the crow's nest with Reginald Lee. It was a clear night with a calm sea. This meant the water clearly reflected the light from the stars; however, there was no moon. Furthermore, the lack of waves breaking against the surrounding icebergs made them harder to see from a distance. Fleet facetiously claimed to Lee that he could smell ice when it was near.
The two men were momentarily distracted from their lookout duties when they spotted a young couple embracing on the deck below. Lee was jealous that the lovers, unlike themselves, did not have to deal with the cold night air, but Fleet jokingly said he'd rather remain cold than imitate them.A few seconds after they resumed watch, a large iceberg suddenly emerge from the darkness ahead of them, with Fleet being the first to see it. Caught off guard, he rang the bell three times, alerting William Murdoch to the iceberg's presence. Fleet then telephoned the bridge to warn James Moody. The crew attempted to turn the ship to port to avoid the berg, but the command was slow to take effect, frustrating Fleet. The ship was now too close to completely miss the berg and scraped it as it passed, buckling the hull and flooding the lower decks. The impact made the whole ship shudder, and Fleet uttered a profanity. Unaware of the extent of the damage, he remarked to Lee that they had narrowly avoided disaster. In the aftermath of that episode, Lee did not appreciate Fleet's flippant remark about being able to smell nearby ice.
Behind the scenesEdit
Fleet testified at the inquiries that if he had been issued binoculars, he would have seen the iceberg sooner. In fact there were binoculars on board, but they were stowed away in a locker, and due to a mixup the key had been left in Southampton. No-one wanted to smash open the locker due to the insurance implications, meaning the lookouts had nothing but the naked eye with which to scan the surrounding seas. In any event, experts today believe that binoculars would have been useless without additional lighting.
In the 1958 film A Night To Remember, Fleet was portrayed by Bernard Fox, who would go on to play Archibald Gracie in Cameron's Titanic film. In this version Fleet's famous line was rendered as "Iceberg, dead ahead sir!" rather than the historically accurate "Iceberg, right ahead!"
In April 2012, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, a pair of binoculars was placed on Fleet's grave with a note that can be seen here.
- Frederick Fleet on Wikipedia