Explorers today spotted the safes of the sunken luxury liner Titanic on the ocean bottom and tried unsuccessfully to open one of them.
Late today the team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution also shipped back the first color images of the inside and outside of the legendary "unsinkable" liner where it has rested, 12,500 feet deep, since it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank in April 1912.
On the sixth of 12 scheduled diving days, Woods Hole team leader Robert D. Ballard radioed from sea that the divers in the 25-foot, three-person submersible, called Alvin, had surveyed the debris at the stern of the ship.
"It was like going to a museum . . . there were thousands and thousands of artifacts," he said.
"We saw the ship's safes . . . lying on the bottom" outside the ship. "They were rather spectacular," he said. The handle of one safe was shiny bronze or gold, and the door of the safe had a "beautiful crest, like a British crest," on it.
"We grabbed the handle with the manipulator arm of the submersible and turned it, but it wouldn't open, so we left it there."
The safes are reported to contain the valuables of some of the wealthy passengers who were on board, among them John Jacob Astor, great-grandson of the wealthy fur merchant; J. Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line, which owned the Titanic; and Benjamin Guggenheim, the millionaire president of International Steam Pump Co.
The ship, described in its day as the largest moving object on earth at 46,000 tons and 883 feet in length, struck an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, and sank in the early morning of April 15, killing more than 1,500 people. About 800 were rescued.
Ballard said among the thousands of objects spotted today were champagne bottles with the corks still in place.
Photographs flown from the site late today showed color images of the previous five days' diving.
Among the 12 still pictures sent were: the grand staircase and a chandeliered room beside it; the Alvin submersible sitting on the deck near the entrance to the staircase; stalactites of rust -- called rust-cicles -- hanging over the portholes on one side of the ship; the swimming robotic camera gliding down the side of the Titanic; a rackful of cameras peering directly down at the place where the third of the ship comprising the stern was ripped away; the bow digging into the mud on the sea bottom, and an anchor hanging on the starboard side of the bow.
When the ship sank, its four great stacks were sheared off and the ship broke two-thirds of the way back from the bow. The stacks have not been found, but the stern was seen today as a tangled mass of wreckage in the mud.
Ballard said the submersible glided around the wreckage but avoided sending the robotic camera, called Jason Jr., too close for fear its 200-foot tether could become entangled. He said the stern looked "as long as a city block" and was covered with objects from inside the ship. He said no human remains were spotted and only minor articles of clothing such as a sock and shoes were seen. He said he does not expect to find any human remains among the debris.
The official purpose of the expedition is to test the robotic camera, which has entered the Titanic and allowed the first view of the interior in 74 years. The 2 1/2-foot-long robot vehicle, equipped with lights, was built at Woods Hole with funding from the Navy.
A three-minute videotape flown to shore today showed a few underwater scenes, including a look at the mud-packed prow of the ship, and the Jason Jr. peering in the windows of the promenade deck.
In one image, showing the empty lifeboat davits, bright orange stalactites of rust could be seen. As Jason Jr. bumped one, it broke, causing a rain of orange-colored iron."It was like going to a museum . . . there were thousands and thousands of artifacts." -- Robert D. Ballard
A chandelier found in the bowels of the ship showed what looked like painted ornamentation. A graceful fan of coral was growing from the fixture.
Beginning with Saturday's expedition, four Navy divers will take turns diving to the Titanic in the Alvin. The expedition has 13 cameras working aboard three underwater vehicles. The Alvin submersible has six still and video cameras, and Jason Jr. has one still and one video camera. The third vehicle, with three cameras, is a rack that is towed back and forth above the wreck to record a detailed image of the ship and its environs at night while the other two vehicles are at the ocean's surface.
Ownership of the wreck and its contents, including any valuables found in the safe, theoretically passed to the insurance companies that paid out claims after the sinking. To exercise their claims, however, the companies must have made some effort over the years to salvage or exert control over the lost material.
Whoever finds and actually salvages the wreck is entitled to at least a percentage of the take. Woods Hole has not made a salvage claim, but many others who have searched for the Titanic have