During the night crewmembers reported seeing the lights of a large ship on the horizon as well as a number of white rockets being fired. These sightings were reported to the captain, however he did not order any action to be taken.
The following morning Evans awoke to a frenzy of messages reporting that the new White Star liner Titanic had gone down during the night in the vicinity of the Californian's position. Once the ship arrived on the scene, however, the Cunard liner Carpathia was loading the last lifeboats and the was nothing more for Lord and his crew to do.
The British and American inquiries into the Titanic disaster both concluded that the ship seen by the Californian's crew that night had been the Titanic and severely condemned Captain Lord for failing to interpret the rockets as signals of distress and respond accordingly. Lord, however, contended that his ship had been too far away from the Titanic's location for it to have been visible. Others argue that maritime regulations state that any unidentified signals should be treated as signals of distress and that regardless of the identity of the ship sighted, it was Lord's obligation to respond accordingly, which he failed to do.