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100 years later

Created date

March 20th, 2012

Today, there is no trace of her on the surface of the dark, icy waters 960 miles northeast of New York City no sign that she was ever there. But here, on the night of April 14, 1912, an iceberg sent the luxury liner Titanic and 1,523 of her passengers and crew to the bottom of the Atlantic. Her sinking was an epic tragedy. The ship that magazines, newspapers, and advertisements heralded as unsinkable had suffered a fate that many had believed impossible. Despite her 20 lifeboats which together were capable of holding over 1,200 people a mere 705 made it off alive, most of them women and children who watched in horror as their husbands and fathers went down with the ship or languished in the Atlantic s frigid waters. The same papers that trumpeted the liner s invincibility, in the following days, printed late-breaking editions emblazoned with news of her demise. Titanic Sinks After Hitting Iceberg, sounded the New York Times, while others proclaimed it the Worst Ocean Disaster in World s History and announced the loss of wealthy notables the likes of Benjamin Guggenheim and John Jacob Astor. The ship s grandeur and its catastrophic end captivated people around the world in 1912, and it continues to do so 100 years later. Titanic is, in a number of ways, distinct from other shipwrecks throughout history, says oceanographer Robert Ballard, who is best known for his 1985 discovery of the ocean liner s final resting place. Whereas, ships like the Lusitania sank immediately, Titanic hit the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. and took almost three hours to founder. During this time, you had these dramatic, human stories play out, all of which were very compelling. That s why we still remember the ship after so many years. Since the mid 1980s, Ballard has made the two-and-a-half-mile dive to Titanic s wreck 11 times in an effort to learn as much as he possibly can about the ill-fated ship. Even so, his most recent expedition one of commemoration took place on dry land at Titanic s birthplace, the shipyard of Harland & Wolff, in Belfast, Ireland. Accompanied by a National Geographic camera crew, Ballard traveled there in 2011 in hopes of revisiting Titanic from the perspective of the men who built and sailed her. In Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard, which premiers this month on the National Geographic Channel, the famed oceanographer retraces Titanic s brief life from her incarnation to her maiden voyage.

New story surfaces

Ballard interviews the family members of an elite group of engineering experts called The Guarantee Group, among themTitanic schief designer Thomas Andrews, who famously refused to leave the sinking ship, staring mournfully at his blueprints in a first-class smoking lounge until the very end. I thought I knew everything aboutTitanicbefore I made this documentary, Ballard confesses. Then I learned of a tradition at Harland & Wolff in which they would send nine, hand-picked experts on the maiden voyage of big ships like theTitanic. Their job was to make sure that the ship was working and to help the crew of the White Star Line to get to know their vessel. Of course, all nine of these men went down withTitanic. It s a truly fascinating tale. Ballard has lived and breathed this ship for more than a quarter of his life and has no doubt that it will be around for a bicentennial. When asked about his future plans regardingTitanic, his answer was unequivocal: Preservation and education. A pioneer in advanced oceanographic exploration, Ballard proudly flaunts his use of telepresence technology, which he predicts may one day render manned submersibles obsolete. On the 100th anniversary ofTitanic s sinking, I m most mindful of the need to protect this ship and the memory of its passengers, and telepresence technology is making that possible in ways that we couldn t have imagined 30 or 40 years ago, he says. Before, if you wanted to visit the ship, you had to dive two and a half miles in a small submersible. But by 2004, I was in a command center on the surface exploringTitanic swreck using a robot equipped with high-definition cameras that can capture details as small as the manufacturer s name on a piece of china. According to Ballard, this technology will eventually allow anyone to take a tour of the famous liner without the perilous trip down to the ocean floor. I want to bring the people to the ship instead of taking parts of the ship to the people, he explains. That way, we can leave the wreck and its artifacts undisturbed. Remember, this is a gravesite. We have to respect that. Ballard envisions underwater museums as a means to that end and says thatTitanicwill be one of them. In the meantime, the world will need no reminding of the ship once thought unsinkable.