A 73-year mystery was solved on this day in history, Sept. 1, 1985, when the shipwreck of the ocean liner RMS Titanic was discovered in the North Atlantic.
The wreck was discovered during a joint mission between the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the French National Institute of Oceanography (IFREMER), according to the WHOI website.
The mission was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Technology. It aimed to “test the abilities of these newly developed underwater imaging systems to locate items on the sea floor,” said the website.
The wreck of the Titanic “provided a high-profile backdrop for the mission.”
Led by Dr. Robert D. Ballard of WHOI and Jean Louis Michel of IFREMER, the two-part mission initially narrowed the search area to a 100-square-mile patch of the ocean.
The first phase of the mission began on July 1, 1985. It consisted of the French team aboard the French research vessel Le Suroit.
Le Suroit’s crew used a sonar system, the “System Acoustique Remorquè” (an acoustic trailer system), to comb the ocean floor in a “mowing the lawn” pattern.
“In 1985 there were other sonar systems, but the newly developed SAR was the most sophisticated, providing better quality imagery and creating almost a photograph of the seafloor,” said WHOI.
Le Suroit spent a month at sea. While her crew did not find the Titanic, they ruled out about 75% of the search area, said WHOI.
The second phase of the mission to locate the Titanic began on August 15, aboard the research vessel Knorr.
The team gambled on a radical approach for scanning the remaining search field.
In addition to the American team from WHOI, three French scientists from IFREMER were aboard.
After a week, the Knorr arrived at the area where the Le Suroit had last looked.
“With just 12 days of ship time to search, the WHOI team gambled on a radical approach for scanning the remaining search field,” said WHOI.
Instead of searching for a single large object, such as the Titanic’s hull, the crew of the Knorr used an imaging tool called “ANGUS” (Acoustically Navigated Geological Underwater Survey) along with a sonar/video camera system named “Argo,” to look for any debris that might have come from the Titanic.
This strategy worked: Just after 1 o’clock in the morning on Sept. 1, 1985, the Knorr found one of the Titanic’s boilers, said WHOI’s website.
The last four days of the voyage involved filming the newly discovered wreck with ANGUS and Argo, the same site added.
Just over 700 people survived the sinking of the Titanic.
The Titanic’s size meant that she was equipped to carry 64 lifeboats — more than enough for the 2,200 passengers and crew on board.
However, she was outfitted with only 16 lifeboats, plus an additional four “collapsibles,” said History.com.
The total capacity of those 20 lifeboats was only 1,178 passengers — roughly half the number of people aboard the ship.
In response to the tragedy, new safety regulations were adopted for merchant ships.
The first SOLAS, or the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), was a seven-week convention held in London from November 1913 until January 1914.
The treaty outlined new mandatory safety features of ships, including requirements that the ships have enough lifeboats for everyone on board, says the International Maritime Organization website.