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Titanic centennial: Duluth wireless operator heard word of ship in distress

It was faint, relaying across about 2,000 miles, but Mrs. Otto Redfern at United Wireless in Duluth said she heard the Morse call tap from Jack Phillips:...

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It was faint, relaying across about 2,000 miles, but Mrs. Otto Redfern at United Wireless in Duluth said she heard the Morse call tap from Jack Phillips:

"CQD DE MGY. CQD DE MGY. CQD DE MGY. CQD DE MGY. CQD DE MGY. CQD DE MGY."

Redfern said she couldn't catch the location of the signal.

If she had, she would have heard "41.44 N. 50.24 W."

What she did know was that somewhere there was a ship in distress.

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The ship code, "MGY," may not have been known to someone on the Great Lakes watch. It was new. It was for a ship called the RMS Titanic.

"CQD" was the standard call in 1912 on the burgeoning Marconi wireless systems to all vessels within range that the sender's ship is in distress and requires immediate assistance.

"CQD DE MGY" meant "In distress, require immediate assistance, this is the Titanic."

Phillips was a radio officer for the ship on its maiden voyage from Europe bound for New York.

A half-hour earlier, at 11:40, the Titanic had gashed its hull on a massive iceberg and the results were becoming clearer by the minute: This ultra-modern craft, said by many to be unsinkable, was filling with sea water and doomed 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.

Redfern was at the Duluth station that Sunday night, April 14, 1912. The clear, star-filled sky -- remarked upon by so many passengers on the ship as they scurried to the decks -- was helping to carry the signal to the outpost on Lake Superior.

Soon, and just yards from the "wireless shack" where Phillips was frantically relaying more signals about an iceberg hitting the ship and its inevitable sinking, Duluth passenger Constance Willard was being uncooperative.

Walter Lord, in the 1953 book "A Night to Remember," called the most definitive account of the sinking taken from passenger interviews, mentions Willard early on. She is among those who can't believe the Titanic actually would sink. She, like many first-class passengers, did not want to leave the cozy confines of the ship for a cold lifeboat No. 8.

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Lord wrote: "When Mrs. Constance Willard flatly refused to enter the boat, an exasperated officer finally shrugged, 'Don't waste time -- let her go if she won't get in.' "

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