via press release:
New York, NY, March 8, 2012 – As the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking approaches, a team of scientists, engineers, archaeologists and imaging experts have joined forces to answer one of the most haunting questions surrounding the legendary disaster: Just how did the “unsinkable” ship break apart and plunge into the icy waters of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912? TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED premieres Sunday, April 15 at 8-10pm ET/PT and will document this most recent mission, unveil astonishing pieces of never-before-seen wreckage and present the expedition’s unexpected findings as well as definitive answers.
In 2010, HISTORY joined the world’s top underwater experts in this most recent expedition to the wreck site, one that completed the most thorough and exhaustive study of the wreck ever made. The undertaking, which included the leadership participation of RMS Titanic, Inc., the salvor in possession of the wreck site, yielded unprecedented new discoveries and the first comprehensive map of Titanic’s watery grave – the entire fifteen square-mile patch of ocean floor where Titanic came to rest – helping to solve the century-old puzzle of what went wrong and to determine who or what was responsible.
TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED tells the exclusive story of this expedition. In addition to the mapping of the entire site, the special will also reveal for the first time the complete picture of the breakup and sinking by use of a virtual hangar. Applying the techniques of a space shuttle or aircraft accident investigation (map the site and reassemble the pieces in a hangar), the team of experts will create a virtual holographic reconstruction of the wreck site in a hangar. No other anniversary show has the exclusive story of this unique expedition and its startling revelations.
In the twenty-five years since the wreck was located, no one had ever explored and mapped the entire site – no one had all the keys to understanding what could have truly happened on that fateful night — nearly half the area remained unseen and unknown, and significant portions of the ship, which could reveal how it broke, were missing. Now, after 100 years, every inch of the entire site is finally known, and every piece of the ship documented exactly where it landed on the ocean floor a century ago.
In TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED viewers see newly discovered pieces of the ship for the first time, follow the expedition’s new finds, and will come to learn the definitive story of how the ship broke apart. The event special will answer the biggest questions about Titanic: did she have a fatal flaw, and if so, who or what was responsible? By the end of TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED viewers will finally know the whole story. It is time to know what happened. And time to lay the Titanic to rest.
The first to visit Titanic in five years, the 2010 expedition, led by RMS Titanic, Inc. the wreck’s legal custodian and curator brought together a number of prominent underwater organizations that had never partnered before. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Advanced Imaging & Visualization Laboratory, a world leader in underwater imaging, developed special 3-D and 2-D cameras for the mission that delivered high-quality footage of extreme clarity. The Waitt Institute for Discovery, meanwhile, supplied self-controlled robots known as AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), capable of independently surveying the site with high-resolution side-scan sonar. These devices worked in tandem with an ROV (remote operated vehicle) provided by Phoenix International, a marine services contractor.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University also contributed to the expedition. Engineer Parks Stephenson, marine artist Ken Marschall, accident investigator Jim Chiles and Titanic expert Bill Sauder served as consultants on behalf of HISTORY.
The AUVs traveled the entire search area and returned with high-resolution views that were aggregated into a sonar map. The second step of the process involved sending out an ROV fitted with cameras to debris-rich sites pinpointed by the AUVs. AUVs and ROV had never before been used simultaneously on a deep ocean site. “The sonar map is the baseline for the entire analysis,” Parks Stephenson said. “It basically shows us the truth of where all of the debris landed, and then we used that as a guide to go through all of the raw footage. This gave us eyeball resolution on all those pieces, including pieces we’ve never seen before.” David Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole, described the footage captured by the ROV: “The images are staggering. There you are on the bottom of the ocean, transported to the sea floor. It’s mindboggling; even veterans who have been to Titanic numerous times are slack-jawed.”
The team believes its cutting-edge approach represents a paradigm shift in underwater archaeology. “Speaking as an archeologist, I think it’s extremely exciting,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “This technology and these AUVs are as much a game changer for this kind of work on the bottom as going from a landline to a Blackberry.” Chris Davino, president of RMS Titanic, Inc. said it filled a longstanding void in research on the illustrious wreck. “So much of what we’re doing really hasn’t been done before,” he noted. “The map itself, obviously, is a first-time-ever product. People have been clamoring for this on Titanic for literally decades.”
THE MISSION AND THE MAP
The expedition’s participants generated a map that was not only more complete but also more precise than earlier attempts. “Over the course of time, there have been dozens of expeditions to Titanic, but notwithstanding all of the expertise and all of the technological advances, no one has even tried to accomplish creating a comprehensive site survey map of this wreck site,” said Chris Davino. “Previous expeditions have gone down in manned submersibles or photo sleds to cover an area of the wreck site,” Stephenson explained. “They would only cover a portion of the wreck site since they could only stay down for so long.” When experts fused together these disparate slices back on the surface, key information was lost—including the exact locations of artifacts and fragments.
In addition to offering a detailed look at critical elements of the wreckage—including the dual surfaces of the hull’s double bottom, a focus of a 2006 HISTORY special on Titanic—the mapping revealed new and telling pieces experts knew little or nothing about. For instance, a pile of unidentified rubble, which Parks Stephenson and other HISTORY analysts dubbed the “deckhouse debris,” turned out to encompass the base of Titanic’s third funnel and surrounding decks. “This gave us our first indication of how the ship actually broke apart,” Stephenson said of the piece, which he’d glimpsed in outtakes from the 2006 special. “It’s important not only to identify what things were but also to establish a context for them.”
By taking into account the locations of the deckhouse debris, the double bottom and newly discovered pieces on the sonar map, investigators recreate the ship’s final moments—in particular its deterioration and descent to the sea floor—in TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED, “You really begin to understand how violently the ship tore itself apart when it went down and landed all over this enormous footprint on the bottom of the ocean,” said David Alberg, sanctuary superintendent for NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
Filmmaker Rushmore DeNooyer, a producer of the HISTORY special, likened the undertaking to a forensic analysis of a crime or disaster scene—only in this case, 100 years after the tragedy took place. “If the National Transportation Safety Board looks at an airliner that crashes or if NASA looks at the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, they look at where the pieces are and how they are arranged and oriented on the ground,” he said. “That’s basically like the map.”
Any accident investigation needs a map of the site, showing all the wreckage. Why? Because the layout of the wreck site, the relationship of all the pieces, holds clues as to what happened. Like blood spatters at a murder scene, how the pieces of Titanic are lying on the bottom — their positions in relationship to each other — can tell the story of how the ship’s structure failed, leading to her disintegration.
In one of the most amazing moments, computer simulations will enact the sinking in reverse, bring pieces of Titanic’s wreckage back to the surface and reassemble the ship in the virtual hangar. The aim is to determine how and why the ship’s structure failed when it split apart, as well as where exactly the break occurred. “Because of the comprehensive mapping from the 2010 expedition, we were able for the first time to reconstruct that broken middle area of the ship,” said Stephenson.
Whereas other anniversary programs tout best-guess theories and land-based speculation, TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED presents new findings based on real-world hard evidence gathered on-site to deconstruct the disaster and show exactly how the ship broke apart. From this analysis, we’ll find out who or what was at fault and who or what has been blamed unfairly. This will be the definitive story of the tragic sinking of Titanic.
TITANIC AT 100: MYSTERY SOLVED is produced by Lone Wolf Documentary Group for HISTORY. Executive Producers Kirk Wolfinger, RMS Titanic, Inc., and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Executive Producer for HISTORY Carl H. Lindahl; Co-executive Producer Peacock Productions/NBC News