Friday, April 16, 2010

In Search Of... The Titanic

The RMS Titanic, the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time, sunk on this date in 1912, just four days into her maiden voyage, after having hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. It's easy to forget today what a compelling mystery the location of the wreck was before September 1, 1985, when Bob Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel finally located it in deep water off the coast of Newfoundland using side scan sonar.  A year later Ballard conducted the first manned dives to the wreck. What little mystery remained after that was certainly wiped away forever amid the hysteria over the worldwide blockbuster film "Titanic" in 1997. But before the mid-1980s, the exact location of the wreck and the logistics of how to raise it (if ever found) were topics of enduring popular fascination.

I really liked the TV show I
n Search of... as a kid in the 1970's. I have enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. In Search Of... did an episode on the Titanic which first aired on November 30, 1981. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE.

"She is a prize and a challenge that many men have dreamed of recovering," explains narrator Leonard Nimoy in the introduction. "Yet her whereabouts remain unknown."  That may not have been entirely true, however, even when Nimoy first spoke those words in 1981. What was not publicly known until a few years ago was that Bob Ballard had requested funding from the US Navy back in 1982 to search for the Titanic in the same spot where he ultimately found it in 1985.  But the Navy would only fund that search after Ballard had conducted secret searches for the sunken US nuclear submarines USS Scorpion and USS Thresher using the same cutting-edge technologies  Only once those wrecks had been located and photographed was Ballard allowed to pursue the search for the Titanic.  

This is all the more interesting, I thought, in light of the fact that a prior episode of In Search of...  about the Loch Ness Monster had featured Bob Ballard (as I noted HERE).  And yet he does not appear in this later episode on the Titanic, despite the fact that it aired just months before he asked to US Navy for funding to search for it.

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