The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rare footage of 1986 Titanic dive provides haunting look at wreck

Video from 1986 shows the doomed RMS Titanic after the shipwreck was first discovered on the floor of the North Atlantic Ocean. (Video: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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For years, researchers and explorers scoured the sea in search of the doomed RMS Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic in 1912. But only in 1985 did a team of French and American scientists strike the jackpot.

Largely unseen, uncut footage of the ship was revealed Wednesday night by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), an ocean research nonprofit. The 81-minute video, published on YouTube, shows the wreckage of the Titanic months after it was discovered, when humans laid their eyes directly on the ship for the first time since it sank. (The wreck was found using a sonar system and underwater camera.)

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The footage was taken in July 1986, when WHOI-led researchers aboard the HOV Alvin used cutting-edge imaging technology and a remotely operated vehicle, the Jason Jr., to film the Titanic’s exterior and rooms inside the ship. It depicts, among other things, the ship’s bow, a chief officer’s cabin, a promenade window, leftover debris and a chandelier still hanging from a ceiling against a backdrop of dark water.

The Titanic was touted as unsinkable in the media before its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. But it struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, and slowly plunged nearly 12,500 feet into the North Atlantic Ocean. Only about 700 of the 2,227 passengers and crew on board survived, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

The shipwreck is located about 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland, Canada. Since the discovery of the wreckage, significant parts of the ship have collapsed or gone missing, spurring accusations of looting and even the signing of a treaty to protect its remains.

The WHOI released the footage in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the film “Titanic.” “More than a century after the loss of Titanic, the human stories embodied in the great ship continue to resonate,” James Cameron, director of the award-winning romantic drama, said in a release. “Like many, I was transfixed when Alvin and Jason Jr. ventured down to and inside the wreck.”

“By releasing this footage, WHOI is helping tell an important part of a story that spans generations and circles the globe,” he added.

The full video can be watched here.