The Unsinkable Titanic

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, we dug into our archives for this remarkable account of the disaster and its aftermath. Plus: Titanic video clips of the survivors, the wreckage, and more.

Also in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2012

A Warmth of Remembrance

With time running short, Ballard and Michel flew Argo gingerly around the wreck some 13,000 feet below the heaving seas.

More pictures emerged on the Argo’s video screen: part of the Titanic’s bridge, a gaping hole where the forward smokestack once stood, empty davits. Later, the prow appeared with its foremast, and anchor chains looking as though they had turned to stone. Watching these pictures, Ballard felt “like an archaeologist opening a Pharaoh’s tomb.”

“Flying over the hull,” Ballard added, “was like walking on egg shells.” It was determined that the forward mast had toppled, but at one pointArgo flew so close to the Titanic that it bounced off the base of one of the stack mounts, picking up a small smear of paint on its steel frame.

Ballard decided to approach the ship from the stern, but, to his surprise, he could not find it. Had it broken off somewhere beyond No. 2 stack? He lowered Angus, a still-camera submersible, to get close-up, high-quality 35-mm color photographs. Developed later, they showed the bow section covered with “a thin dusting of sediment, like a gentle snowstorm.” Etched indelibly into the mind were images of wine bottles, cut-glass windows, a mattress frame, the ship’s telegraph, the crow’s nest. But no poop deck, no stern.

The Knorr, which had been allotted only one month for this expedition, was now scheduled to return to Woods Hole. On the trip back, Ballard and Michel discovered that they had seen the stern after all—in pieces. A review of the film images disclosed that it was contained in a debris plume extending more than a mile behind the wreck.

Capt. Richard Bowen of the Knorr later wrote about the voyage home: “On the four days’ transit, the airwaves, which are normally filled with merchant-ship traffic, would become oddly quiet as other ships held their traffic and listened to ours. On ships around the world, officers and seamen must have said, ‘Somebody finally found the Titanic.’

“Four generations of mariners have grown up hearing of the Titanic, and now the mystery of her location is finally solved.”

For Ballard and Michel, the great ship lying over three kilometers below them lived for a moment, again, as she had those seven decades before: sleek and eager to dash across the Atlantic Ocean, her seven bright rows of portholes and windows exuding golden light. She symbolized an age of ease and graciousness, of pride and confidence in the powers of man. Now, as an avid press broadcast the news received from the Knorr, the world seemed to reminisce, to mourn, to feel an ache in the heart and a warmth of remembrance for those brave victims who perished on that great ship so long ago.

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