ROBERT BALLARD / WHOI - 1985 & 1986

In 1985 a joint expedition was launched with the collaboration of the American flagged Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the French Institute for Marine Research ‘IFREMER’ to locate the remains of Titanic.  The American side of the effort was led by Dr. Robert Ballard, with Jean-Louis Michel heading the French side of the exploration from IFREMER.  


The French concentrated on a bottom profiling with sonar called SAR which mapped out the region around where Titanic was believed to have gone down and generally mapped the same rough search area that had been previously screened by Jack Grimm.  


The results of the SAR scanning, however, were inconclusive and did not reveal anything definitive that could be identified as the Titanic.  While the search with IFREMER was going on, Robert Ballard was secretly being employed by the United States Navy to explore and document the sunken nuclear submarine U.S.S. Scorpion and use Titanic as a cover.  The examination of Scorpion and its subsequent findings have been the premise behind the documentary “Titanic’s Nuclear Secret” as well as other related books and videos. Following Ballards examination of Scorpion, he set a course to find Titanic, and with only 1 week to spare. 


The French SAR survey had eliminated 75% of the ocean floor, leaving only a large swath of bottom left to be examined.


Ballard, having learned through his secret mission to document Scorpion, elected to use ARGO to find search the ocean floor. 


ARGO was a towed camera sled, outfitted with special lights and a sensitive camera to send back live pictures of what lay on the ocean floor. Despite the size of the search area, on September 1st, 1985, with Jean-Louis Michel in command of the control room, and Ballard asleep in his bunk… the unmistakable image of a boiler flashed across the video monitors. 


Titanic had been FOUND! 


Preliminary examination of the site disclosed to the world that the great ship had, indeed, broken in two pieces before she settled on the bottom. For years it had been assumed that the ship had sunk intact, and despite the numerous accounts to the contrary, it was generally believed and accepted that the ship would be found in one piece. The Knorr returned to the U.S. to a heroes welcome and for the first time since April of 1912, the name ‘Titanic’ screamed across the headlines of the world.


In 1986, Robert Ballard and W.H.O.I would return to the Titanic without the assistance of IFREMER. This expedition saw the first official exploration of the ship by a manned submersible ALVIN and the robot camera JASON JUNIOR (dubbed “J.J.”).

 Over the course of 11 dives in Alvin Ballard took hours of video and over 57,000 photographs of the ship as it lay quietly in its deepwater tomb.  



During a few of these dives ‘J.J.’ was sent out for up-close inspection of the ship and was even piloted by pilot Martin Bowen into the ship’s Grand Staircase. Here, affixed to the C-deck landing was a beautiful crystal chandelier dangling by its cord.  


The National Geographic team was on hand for exploration as they’d been in 1985 and the entire discovery & exploration of Titanic was turned into a critically acclaimed documentary and a major book deal by Robert Ballard.  


For the first time since she foundered the world was able to glimpse the great liner in colour and explore her ruined decks, however, the site was left unclaimed by Ballard, who was (allegedly) initially prevented from claiming salvage by his superiors in the Navy Department and at Woods Hole. The matter was given serious thought and the conclusion was that it was best to leave Titanic alone.  


The general consensus was that the Titanic wreck was safe from those who would potentially claim the wreck or salvage her.  However, by not claiming the wreck for his own, for whatever reason, was to be Ballards biggest mistake.


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