April 28, 2012
It's a saga so incredible, you wish it was true.
In 1912, Murzakan Kuchiev, a young man from the North Ossetian village of Ardon, boards the "Titanic" in Southampton, England, in a quest to earn his fortune in America.
A bad dish of herring sends him reeling to the upper decks just as the doomed liner hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic. He plunges over the side into the bitterly cold water, where a terrified young woman clutches to him for survival.
Kuchiev's granddaughter, Indira Kadzova, recently told RFE/RL about what Kuchiev said happened next.
"He stayed in the water for a long time," she said. "And he said that a woman who had been clinging to his neck had already died from hypothermia. But he couldn't detach himself from her; her hands were frozen and locked around his neck."
Russian media ranging from "Argumenty i fakty" to
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTyDh2IrHEo have reveled in Kuchiev's story, unabashedly comparing it to the heart-pounding drama of the 1997 blockbuster movie "Titanic."
There's just one problem: Kuchiev's story doesn't appear to be true.
Not A Trace Of Evidence
No documents related to the ship bear any evidence of Kuchiev or his colorful story, which ends with him being pulled nearly frozen from the water, a protracted hospital recovery, and a triumphant return home to Russia, compensation money in hand.
Debbie Beavis is an expert on British shipping records and the author of the book "Who Sailed on Titanic?" which is considered the go-to source for "Titanic" passenger lists.
She maintains that there is no trace of Kuchiev at any point in his purported journey -- even though most passengers and survivors were scrupulously documented at each stage of the ordeal.
"Perhaps he could have spent that long in the water and been able to get pulled into one of the lifeboats," she says. "From that moment, though, one has to wonder why he does not appear on any of the lists of lifeboat passengers, who were all recorded very faithfully.
"He evidently gets carted off, probably to St. Vincent's Hospital, where most of the injured passengers were taken. But the purser's list [from the "Carpathia"] doesn't show him; the printed list of New York arrivals doesn't show him."
According to Beavis, survivors of the "Titanic" are likely to appear on five or more different lists, beginning with outgoing passenger lists and moving on to survivor lists on individual lifeboats as well as the "Carpathia," the passenger ship that carried the survivors to New York.
From there, third-class survivors were registered by immigration authorities. Any passengers requiring a hospital stay would have been added to yet another list.
Receiving compensation from the "Titanic's" owner, the White Star Line, required still more paperwork.
Lastly, any return trip -- if it included a stop in England, as Kuchiev claimed his outgoing voyage had, would be recorded on U.K. arrivals lists.
None of these lists bear Kuchiev's name or even a close approximation. (In the days of handwritten travel documents, foreign names were often wildly misspelled. The closest match, according to Beavis, is an Ellis Island record for Kurolso Kozieff from Vladikavkaz, who traveled to the U.S. from the German port of Bremen in 1910.)
One hundred years after the sinking of the "Titanic," says Beavis, it is almost certain that Murzakan Kuchiev was not onboard the ship.
According to her, research on the famous ship has been so exhaustive, and lists like those on encyclopedia-titanica.org so complete, that there are few mysteries left:
"Anybody who was on 'Titanic' in whatever capacity, whether they were supposed to be there or not, has been identified wherever possible," she said. "And in terms of the people who have not been identified, we know their names, we just don't know who they were, if that makes sense.
"There's always going to be something that people are going to want to know about 'Titanic,' but I'm afraid as far as the passengers are concerned, it's just been done."
If Kuchiev's "Titanic" saga is untrue, it raises the question of where the young North Ossetian was traveling during his supposed time abroad.
That, however, is likely to remain a mystery.
Kuchiev -- who returned to Russia only to fall victim to Stalin-era repressions, is believed to have died in internal exile in 1940.
His family -- which includes his 86-year-old daughter, Anna -- says they have never received Kuchiev's Soviet-era dossier and that none of his official documents, including a passport, remain.
Beavis acknowledges some dismay at debunking "Titanic" myths, noting that as many as 7,000 people falsely claimed to have sailed on the "Titanic" in the years immediately after the sinking.
"It's very sad that people decide they have to spice up the stories of their own journeys by saying they're on the 'Titanic,'" she says.
"I think people want a bit of excitement. We all read these things about the 'Titanic' -- whether they're wonderful things or horrible things -- and we all wonder what it was like to actually experience it."