For scientists on board KNNOR, the ship searching for the wreck of the Titanic, the night of August 31, 1985, promised to be as uneventful as any other. For two futile months, the uncrewed submersible Argo had scoured the murky depths of the North Atlantic Ocean. Then, just after midnight on September 1, small pieces of metal began to show up on the ship’s monitors. At first the team saw only the wreckage of a boiler, but it was instantly recognizable as one of the Titanic’s. The camera followed a trail of objects until, suddenly, the huge black shadow of the ship’s hull came into view. Seventy-three years after its tragic loss, the Titanic had been found.
The Titanic was located at 41°43’N, 49°56’W, 480 miles (770 km) southeast of Newfoundland, Canada. The wreck lies on the gently sloping seabed overlooking a small canyon, which scientists named the Titanic Canyon in 1980.
The bow and stern sections of the ship lie 1,970 ft (600 m) apart on the seabed, facing in opposite directions. Both are upright, the bow section having plowed 65 ft (20 m) into the mud. Despite the impact, the bow section is remarkably intact.
The Titanic lies in 12,470 ft (3,800 m) of water. At this depth, there is no light and the temperature is no more than 36°F (2°C). No plants grow at this depth, and few fish can survive the intense pressure and cold.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
In July 1987, a team of French scientists sailed to the site of the Titanic to carry out more thorough investigations. The expedition worked from the surface ship Nadir (above), and a crew of three explored the seabed in the submersible Nautile (right). Using the submersible’s mechanical arms, the crew scooped 1,800 objects from the seabed.
Life on board Nautile was cramped and hot. The three-person crew lay on their sides, looking out on the wreck through the small portholes. Lights illuminated the scene outside; video cameras recorded it for posterity.
Nautile, the submersible used in the 1987 Titanic expedition, measured only 27 ft (8 m) in length. Its three-person crew pilot, co-pilot, and observer took 90 minutes to reach the seabed and could stay down for up to eight hours before they had to return to the surface.
As the ship sank, most of the 29 vast boilers broke away and crashed around inside the hull. Only five, however, broke completely free of the ship and were later found in the field of debris. The remaining 24 boilers are probably still within the bow section.
Over the years, layers and layers of rust have covered a fitting on the bow of the Titanic, making it appear like a figurehead. In reality, the fitting was to secure the forestay (support) that held up the foremast.
This telegraph was among the many items photographed by Argo. Originally mounted on the docking bridge at the stern of the ship, the telegraph was used to communicate with the engine room when maneuvering the ship in and out of port.
PEEPING INTO THE PAST
Among the many items picked up from the wreck by the 1987 expedition was one of the ship’s many portholes. Porcelain plates, cutlery, light fixtures, an empty safe, a statue of a cherub from the grand staircase even a chamber pot were all scooped up from the seafloor.