Before its implosion in "Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1", the Swan contained a 108-minute countdown timer. The timer was reset by entering the Numbers into the station's computer and pressing the Execute button. Failure to enter the Numbers within the last four minutes of the countdown cycle triggered an alarm, which lasted until the timer reached zero. On completing the countdown, the timer's numbers were replaced by red and black Egyptian hieroglyphics while simultaneously a recorded voice repeated "system failure" continuously over the station's speaker system.
The procedure to reset the countdown timer was first described by Dr. Marvin Candle in the Swan Orientation Film. As described by Dr. Candle, the protocol was established after the incident - although he did not reveal exactly what happened. ("Orientation") Kelvin later described the incident as a leak although he may not have been aware of the particulars of what happened in 1977. Kelvin described the electromagnetic energy as continually building up - and that the act of pushing the button "discharges it". Hence, the countdown represented the maximum time limit for a "safe" build-up of the charge.
The countdown timer was regularly reset every 108 minutes, before and after the crash, a routine known as "pushing the button." As revealed by Locke, the timer could not be reset any time before the 104-minute mark, since that was the only time where the computer accepted typing ("What Kate Did"). Thus, the last 4 minutes in countdown after the sounding of the alarm, was the normal interval used in resetting the button.
The 108 count
See more details about the significance of this count in: 108.
- At the 4 minute mark, a steady alarm beep signal/ed and continued for the next 3 minutes.
- At the 1-minute mark, an intense alarm signalled and continued for the next 50 seconds.
- At the 10-second mark, for 20 seconds, the same alarm signalled at a much faster rate.
- During the last 10 seconds, Egyptian hieroglyphs flipped in position of the timer numbers.
- At the end of the 10 seconds, the alarm stopped and all the hieroglyphs were locked in.
- The alarm signal was immediately replaced by a recorded voice repeating: "System Failure".
- The sound of a power build-up was immediately heard, which led to the rest of the system failure effects.
The first occurrence of the failure sequence was revealed in Desmond's flashback, where it led to the first system failure. After their entering of the Hatch, the survivors encountered this sequence in 2 more incidents, before the last incident ending with the second system failure and the implosion of the Swan. ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 2")
The red and black hieroglyphs from the failure sequence were translated by Damon Lindelof to mean "underworld", although Carlton Cuse noted that they are "subject to interpretation". (Official 'Lost' Podcast/July 31, 2006) Other hieroglyphs are also momentarily visible on the countdown timer as it flips to the 5 final symbols:
See more details about the significance of these symbols in: Hieroglyphs.
First incident (flashback)
In "Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1", Desmond revealed in his flashbacks an early incident where the hieroglyphs were all locked for a long period. At that point, the hieroglyphs were accompanied by a high power-build up, rising through time and causing the whole computer room to shake rapidly, while a system failure alarm signal kept playing. As Desmond frantically managed to enter the numbers while facing a monitor flooded with failure notifications, the build-up broke and things went back to normal. However, when he later analyzed The Pearl's log of that period, Desmond came to the conclusion that his system failure was the apparent cause of the Flight 815 crash ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1").
Locke was restrained by Jack from pushing the button before the timer reached the zero count. At the zero count five Hieroglyphs started to roll in: three black figures appearing in position of the minutes count, and two red figures in the seconds count position. The figures locked in consecutively, separated by almost a second, and were accompanied by loud mechanical noises. Eventually, Locke managed to use this little time in executing the button routine, before all five figures were locked in place. At pushing the button, the timer was immediately reset to the 108:00 count, after only four of the five glyphs were seen. ("One of Them")
As a result of Locke's entrapment under the blast door he asked Ben, who was then captured at the Swan by the survivors, to execute the button routine. While trapped, Locke heard the 1-minute alarm followed by the flipping sound of the glyphs. As time passed, a power-build up noise was heard. After the blast door was lifted, Locke saw the timer count at 107.00.
Later, in a conversation with Locke, Ben confirmed that he viewed flipping red pictures that "looked like Hieroglyphics". However, he denied pushing the button, a claim that can now be easily refuted, when compared with the magnitude of the system failure incidents that was later revealed. ("Lockdown")
Locke's determination to test the button's effect resulted in the second and final system failure in the Swan. This incident included the longest locking period for the hieroglyphs. The timer, including the glyphs, was crushed under the metal that imploded, moments before Desmond activated the fail-safe leading to the entire implosion of the Swan. ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1")
- The beeping sound of the four-minute alarm is the sound of a supermarket checkout scanner. The sound editors went to several stores before finding the right sample to use.
- The countdown timer was originally an LED digital clock with 6 digits. It featured at Lost: The Auction. It was later decided that the needed effect required CGI.
- For fan theories about these unanswered questions, see: Countdown timer/Theories
- What would happen if the fail safe key wasn't activated?
- What was the purpose of the hieroglyphs on the countdown timer that were not part of the failure sequence?