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Newly released footage of a 1986 Titanic dive reveals the ship's haunting interior

In this screenshot captured by NPR, the bow of the shipwrecked Titanic is seen from the first human-operated vehicle to visit the site in 1986. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released footage from that 1986 dive on Wednesday.
Screenshot by NPR
/
WHOI
In this screenshot captured by NPR, the bow of the shipwrecked Titanic is seen from the first human-operated vehicle to visit the site in 1986. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released footage from that 1986 dive on Wednesday.

It wasn't until July of 1986, nearly 75 years after the RMS Titanic's ill-fated voyage, that humans finally set eyes on the ship's sunken remains.

Now those remains are, in a way, resurfacing, thanks to the release of more than 80 minutes of uncut footage from the first filmed voyage to the wreck. The research team behind the Titanic's discovery, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, released the video on Wednesday.

Available on YouTube, the footage contains shots of the ship never revealed to the public, including its rust-caked bow, intact railings, a chief officer's cabin and a promenade window.

At one point, the camera zeroes in on a chandelier, still hanging, swaying against the current in a haunting state of elegant decay.

The Titanic, a 46,300-ton steamship once touted as "unsinkable," disappeared beneath the waves after it struck an iceberg on its 1912 voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. Only 705 of the ship's 2,227 passengers and crew survived, according to The Smithsonian.

Efforts to locate the vessel began almost immediately after it wrecked, but were hampered by insufficient technology.

It took 73 years for a team of American and French researchers to find the vessel in 1985, some 12,500 feet below the ocean's surface. Using cutting-edge sonar imaging technology, the team followed a trail of debris to the site, roughly 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland, Canada.

With no remaining survivors of the wreckage, the ship's carcass is all scientists have left to understand the great maritime disaster.

But that carcass, too, is at risk of vanishing. It's slowly being consumed by a thriving undersea ecosystem — and by what scientists suspect is sheer human greed.

The WHOI's newly released footage shows the shipwreck in the most complete state we'll ever see. The ship's forward mast has collapsed, its poop deck has folded in on itself and its gymnasium has crumbled. The crow's nest and the captain's bathtub have completely disappeared.

Concerns of looting inspired one international treaty and scuttled plans to retrieve the Titanic's radio for an exhibit.

The WHOI said it timed the release to mark the 25th anniversary of the film Titanic, which was re-released in theaters on Valentine's Day as a testament to the ship's cultural staying power.

While the Hollywood film might be more likely to elicit emotions (read: tears), the new ocean-floor footage is still transfixing, according to Titanic director James Cameron.

"More than a century after the loss of Titanic, the human stories embodied in the great ship continue to resonate," Cameron saidin a press statement."By releasing this footage, WHOI is helping tell an important part of a story that spans generations and circles the globe."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 16, 2023 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story mistakenly described the Titanic as a 46.3-ton steamship. The ship's gross tonnage was in fact more than 46,000 tons, according to the Smithsonian.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.