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Titanic 100th Anniversary

How the Sun found the Titanic

By Ian Robertson, Special to the Toronto Sun

"We found it! We found it!"

Bubbling with excitement, Prof. Bob Ballard announced - exclusively through a Toronto Sun scientific expert shadowing his undersea expedition - that the Titanic had finally been located.

It was Sept. 1, 1985, 73 years and 138 days since the "unsinkable" British liner sank 600 km southeast of Newfoundland.

The disaster occurred 100 years ago Sunday.

Some mysteries haunting the vessel's loss, plus 1,514 of the 2,224 people aboard, were solved by subsequent film research plus tests on salvaged sections.

Other questions remain unanswered, says Toronto scientist Joe MacInnis, who wrote the stories in QMI Agency's Toronto Sun that followed the discovery.

"It is the story that gets told over and over," he said after recently returning from an 80-day expedition with James Cameron, who directed the blockbuster 1997 Titanic film.

MacInnis is a big fan of the movie, that was inspired by the 1991 Titanica documentary MacInnis made after visiting the ghostly wreck in a submersible.

Notwithstanding the love story, "it is very authentic" portraying the disbelief plus heroism and cowardice among those who survived and others who perished, he said.

From MacInnis interviews with searchers to his report on the discovery, then later for stories carried globally, their success "changed the way we look at the ocean."

After hovering over the search vessel in a helicopter provided by pal Craig Dobbin -- who donated champagne which Ballard requested -- the Sun's man filed stories after viewing the first video showing Titanic wreckage.

The proof was a boiler filmed from a camera trawled beneath the vessel Knorr.

The exclusive photo on The Toronto Sun's Sept. 3, 1985, front page gave the world its first images of the long-lost behemoth. It was also accompanied by other reporter's stories, including survivor interviews.

The find, including later images of the bow, plates and luggage, "sparked imaginations like never before," leading to more dives plus ocean research, the Toronto author and filmographer said.

Some people still regard the disaster as myth. From a 10-minute 1912 film starring a survivor to Cameron's new Titanic 3-D release, books plus thousands of articles, fact and fiction have muddied the waters.

"After years of careful planning -- and a month and a half of searching the ocean floor by a team of French and American scientists -- they had finally found the Titanic ... the Mount Everest of shipwrecks," MacInnis wrote.

Searchers used sonar to explore a 160-sq.-km. grid 3.7 km. under the surface, then partners found a debris trail with a giant camera trolled beneath their ship.

"It was our first confirmation," Ballard told MacInnis. "We knew the main part of the ship had to be close by."

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the world's largest liner sank two hours and 40 minutes after hitting an iceberg.

Wealthy Canadians and Americans, plus more than 1,000 immigrants were among the dead.

The latter were barely mentioned, compared to luminaries that included U.S. millionaires Benjamin Guggenheim and John Jacob Astor IV, plus Charles Hay, president of Canada's Grand Truck Railway.

Of 333 bodies recovered, 150 were buried in Halifax.

Public inquiries brought significant shipbuilding and safety changes, plus new telegraph regulations.

Wireless appeals repeated from other ships and land bases resulted in conflicting reports, with some newspapers reporting all aboard rescued, others having the damaged vessel towed to New York.

In North America, only one paper got it right.

Reporter Joseph Downey spotted the owner's confirming telegraph at The Toronto World after rivals had closed.

Ironically, there are no known copies of the long-closed paper's final morning edition. Only a next-day boast survives as proof of its colossal scoop.

When the French-American team announced search plans 27 years ago, the Toronto Sun avoided being scooped -- and sank our competition.

ian.robertson@sunmedia.ca

 


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