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112 Years ago this week RMS Titanic hits iceberg, sinks

By Donald R. Serfass


Time has a way of softening the impact of heartbreak.

In some cases, it obscures details and provides distance in a way that removes us from pain.

And sometimes, time can make us forget.

While virtually everybody knows about the sinking of the Royal Mail Ship Titanic in the icy North Atlantic, few realize the loss was felt close to home in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Overnight April 14 to 15, 1912, - 112 years ago - the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.

Thelma Thomas, whose Lebanese name was Tannus, was just 16 with an infant son, As’ad.

She and her family were emigrating to Wilkes-Barre from Beirut, Lebanon.

Her husband, Alexander, had already settled in Luzerne County and was operating a dry goods store.

In fact, Alexander had sent his brother, Charles Thomas, back to Lebanon to fetch his wife.

The family boarded the ship April 10, 1912, as third class passengers, according to Encyclopedia Titanic.

Thelma held her infant son As’ad.

Also aboard were cousins, including Aminah Mubarik and her sons, and Silanah Yaz-bak and her husband Antun Musà Yazbak.

Little did Thelma know that she and As’ad would be the only ones from a family of 10 to survive the trip.

Just before midnight on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Amid ensuing screams and panic, the ship sank a few hours later in the darkness of April 15.

According to the historical record, there was a thud and a shake.

Charles went to see what happened. He returned moments later, white as a ghost.

“Come on, there’s no time,” he said.

He put a coat on Thelma, plus a life jacket, then wrapped up the baby.

Turmoil erupted aboard.

But Charles, holding As’ad, managed to put Thelma into a lifeboat.

Then, suddenly, he was shoved backward by panicked passengers.

Thelma screamed for her son and tried desperately to climb back onto the ship.

Charles shouted to the crowd.

“Someone take the baby. I don’t want to be saved.”

A woman in a different lifeboat shouted back.

“I’ll take him.”

She was later identified as Edwina Troutt, credited with cradling the baby in her arms while floating in a life boat all night long.

Charles tried to calm Thelma, telling her not to worry, it would be OK.

Thelma looked to him and said: “Where’s your life jacket?”

He replied, “Later.”

In reality, Charles knew there were no more to be found. He was doomed to drown in the black, icy ocean.

Thelma and her boy eventually were reunited.

Once on land, she was hospitalized and treated for shock and exposure.

Finally making it to Wilkes-Barre, living at 216 Stanton St., she went lived a full life, giving birth to nine more children.

But she never again went near a body of water, not even a lake.

The horror of the Titanic burned permanent images into Thelma’s mind.

She claimed the screams of those struggling in the water never left her memory.

In later interviews, she said the death-filled scene gave her occasional nightmares.

Thelma died in 1974, at age 78 in Valley Crest Nursing Home.

Sadly, son As’ad lived only to age 19, dying of pneumonia.

Their graves rest high on a hill in St. Mary’s Cemetery, in Hanover Township, many miles away from the nearest body of water.

Thelma would want it that way.

According to daughter Marjorie Thomas of Westlake, Ohio, her mother did not hear the Titanic’s band playing as the ship sank into the ocean. Instead, she just heard the screams.

Thelma also said that while floating in the life boat, she did not hear cries as 1,500 people drowned, but more like sighs as they expired.

She spoke about the tragedy for the rest of her life.

The loss of the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage and the fate of unsuspecting passengers combine to make one of the world’s largest and most famous maritime disasters.

An engineering marvel, the ship was 882 feet long and weighed 46,000 tons, the largest object of its day to float on water.

Its builders proudly declared it “practically unsinkable.”

After striking an iceberg, the ship sank in less than three hours.

Today, there are no survivors left.

The last was Millvina Dean, only 2 months old at the time. She died in 2009, at age 97.

The passage of time has taken a toll.

But details in written history, stories handed down to descendants, and a legacy engraved in tombstones guarantee the tale of the Titanic will never be lost.

PRESS PHOTOS BY DONALD R. SERFASS Charles Thomas' body was never recovered or identified. A memorial marker was placed at the family cemetery.
Thelma Thomas' grave rests high on a hillside at St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover Township, miles away from the nearest body of water.
Thelma Thomas
Charles Thomas
As'ad, whose named was Anglicized to Assed, was just a baby when the Titanic sank. In the turmoil, he was handed off to a woman who wasn't his mother. He died of pneumonia at age 19. Donald R. Serfass visited As'ad's grave.
This image provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution shows the deck of Titanic 12,500 feet (3.8 kilometers) below the surface of the ocean, 400 miles (640 kilometers) off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada in 1986.
This image provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution shows the bow of the Titanic 12,500 feet (3.8 kilometers) below the surface of the ocean, 400 miles (640 kilometers) off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada in 1986. Rare and in some cases never before publicly seen video of the dive was released Feb. 15, 2023.
PRESS PHOTO COURTESY WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION VIA AP FROM TIMES NEWS ARCHIVES In this image, an open window of the Titanic 12,500 feet below the surface of the ocean, 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in 1986. Rare images were released in February 2023 by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.