Who Discovered the Titanic, and When?

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The Titanic was discovered by a concerted effort from French and American scientists. Dr. Robert Ballard led the American side of the operation with a submersible from Hole Deep Submergence Lab in Massachusetts, and Francias de Recherche from pour I’Exploitation des Mers Led by Jean Jerry ran the French side of things. They were armed with some of the most sophisticated underwater technology available at the time and each side had high expectations for the operation. Although the subject of public scrutiny, the effort set out to find the Titanic wreck, something that the public thought was simply ludicrous to attempt.

Ballard, the U.S. leader had been interested in finding the Titanic shipwreck since 1973, and had actually set out to locate the vessel in 1977. Ballard used a somewhat less advanced way to attempt to locate the Titanic which involved using a drilling ship to probe the bottom of the ocean. The event ended when the rigging pipe snapped off and Ballard had to once again wait to attempt the legendary vessel. Armed with better technology and the help of the French Institute Francias de Recherche pour I’Exploitation des Mers (I.F.R.E.M.E.R.), Ballard would finally be successful in locating the Titanic.

The Vessel Knorr

The science vessel Knorr that first discovered the Titanic

The French vessel Le Suroit towed her state of the art side scan sonar system which was the most advanced model of sonar at the time. The instrument was capable of making 3,000 sweeps of the ocean floor in each pass. Scientists would study and analyze the print outs of the images of the ocean floor, but still couldn’t find the sunken Titanic.

Le Suroit eventually was needed elsewhere and the scientists transferred to the American vessel Knorr. The ship left off right where the other vessel had with back and forth sweeps of the ocean floor. Finally, on September 1st of 1985, the seabed began to paint a picture of a different layout. Instead of the usual ripples of mud and sand, unusual marks began to show including a massive ship’s boiler.


The ALVIN submersible that helped document the Titanic wreck

Twelve months later, Ballard and his crew returned to the wreck site, this time accompanied by a deep-sea submersible called Alvin, and a remotely operated underwater robot called Jason Junior, or JJ. Their surface vessel this time was Atlantis II, and on the evening of July 12th 1986, Ballard and his staff of about 50 scientists and crew arrived at the site.

Alvin Titanic Submersible

Another Picture of Alvin At The Titanic Shipwreck

Early the next morning, Alvin, pictured here on the left, was brought out of its hangar on the stern of the Atlantis II to be readied for the first dive on the wreck of Titanic. At just after 8.30am, the submersible began its slow journey to the wrecked liner lying 2.5 miles below. Inside the sub were Robert Ballard, Alvin’s chief pilot Ralph Hollis, and co-pilot Dudley Foster. For two-and-a-half hours the sub plummeted deeper and deeper into the Atlantic ocean, their instruments eventually telling them that the sea floor was about 600 feet below them. Crucial sonar equipment failed to work, and although the occupants of the sub knew that they must be pretty close to Titanic, they had to guess the general direction to head in. Eventually, the surface ship managed to point the sub in the right direction, although an alarm had begun to sound warning that one of the batteries was now shorting, meaning that their time spent on the bottom would be very brief.

Suddenly, Ballard saw the ship’s hull. “Directly in front of us was an apparently endless slab of black steel rising out of the bottom – the massive hull of the Titanic.” But the euphoria was short-lived – almost immediately after coming so close to the Titanic, Ralph Hollis was forced to head the sub back to the surface, for there were many problems to keep the sub’s crew busy through the night ahead.

The next day, Alvin returned to the seabed. Ballard’s view of Titanic this time would be amazing. As the sub inched slowly across the mud towards the ship, he glimpsed the bow looming out of the darkness. Ballard’s first instinct was that the Titanic was ‘coming right at us’. But on closer inspection, the crew of the sub could see that Titanic’s bow was up to the anchors in the soft mud.

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