FALMOUTH — Rare and in some cases never before publicly seen video of the 1986 dive through the wreckage of the Titanic was released online Wednesday evening by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The more than 80 minutes of footage on the WHOI’s YouTube channel chronicled some of the remarkable achievements of the dive led by Robert Ballard that marked the first time human eyes had seen the giant ocean liner since it struck an iceberg and sank in the frigid North Atlantic in April 1912. About 1,500 people died during the ship’s maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.
A team from Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in partnership with the French oceanographic exploration organization Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer, discovered the final resting place of the ship in 12,400 feet of water off Newfoundland, Canada, on Sept. 1, 1985 using a towed underwater camera.
Nine months later, a WHOI team returned to the site in the famous three-person research submersible Alvin and the remotely-operated underwater exploration vehicle Jason Jr., which took iconic images of the ship’s interior.
The release of the footage is in conjunction with the 25th anniversary release on Feb. 10 of the remastered version of the Academy Award-winning movie, “Titanic.”
“More than a century after the loss of Titanic, the human stories embodied in the great ship continue to resonate,” ocean explorer and filmmaker James Cameron said in a statement. “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.”
Over 3,000 viewers tuned into the 7:30 p.m. live premiere of the video on YouTube.
“Nice to see such a large turnout,” Bruce Strickrott, the current manager of the team that runs Alvin, wrote in the live chat feature on YouTube.
Several WHOI engineers who had been part of the 1986 mission, including Andy Bowen and Dana Yoerger, were among the viewers.
The special guests, along with staff at WHOI, responded to the frequent questions and comments posted in the live chat.
“I have major goosebumps,” one person commented. Another wrote, “I can’t explain how much I appreciate this. I’m like a foot away from my TV.”
The raw footage video wasn’t released earlier because there had simply been too much footage, WHOI staff wrote in the chat.
“WHOI is constantly archiving footage from past expeditions, and through that process we realized that much video from the 1986 dives had never been made available to the public,” the WHOI account staff wrote. “There was only use at the time for the best bits. We wanted to give folks a look at more.”
Black-and-white footage shot by Alvin, dramatically accompanied by slow instrumental music, showed the exterior of the sunken ship, including its broken bow and bent railings covered in rusticles.
Jason Jr., which was tethered to Alvin, shot in color. The mini, remotely-operated vehicle filmed in areas that Alvin couldn’t reach, including parts of the ship’s interior, revealing support beams and artifacts like a hanging light fixture.
“There was a tether cutter so if Jason Jr. got entangled it wouldn’t prevent Alvin from surfacing,” Yoerger wrote in the live chat.
Occasionally, Jason Jr. brushed against a wall, kicking up rust and fine silt.
“watching [sic] this now, I’m struck [by] how much better our robots are at maneuvering, not to mention their cameras!,” Bowen wrote in a live chat comment.
Artifacts on the exterior were also filmed in color, including what appeared to be a telemotor, a wheel, chains and the forward deck of the ship.
The video is still available for viewing on the WHOI YouTube page.