When the “Unsinkable” Sinks: Discovering Titanic’s Wreckage

The crew of the Limiting Factor mini sub descending far into the depths of the Atlantic to see what they could discover down there. As the sub reached the seabed, the men aboard were astonished to witness something that nobody had seen first-hand in over 14 years: the rusting remains of the RMS Titanic.

The Titanic Expedition / Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet / The Titanic remnants / The Titanic.

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The divers did their job investigating the Titanic wreckage. They knew they would probably find some old and even valuable items that were lost in the accident. However, they never expected to come across such a haunting sight that sent shivers down their spines.

The Doomed Vessel

Over a century after her tragic sinking, the story of the Titanic still has the power to shock and move people. But the doomed vessel was more than just an ordinary shipwreck. The Titanic had a considerable audience when she set out for her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912.

The remnants of the Titanic at the bottom of the sea.

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White Star Line put a lot of money into their Olympic-class line of luxury ships. The line included a trio of British ocean liners: the Britannic, the Olympic, and the Titanic. The Titanic was the newest, recently introduced ship.

White Star Line

Business Tycoons like J.P. Morgan invested a ton of money into White Star Line, with the hopes of turning the Olympic-class boat line into the leading ship company on the planet. Unfortunately, that clever-sounding idea didn’t exactly go according to plan. Instead, it ended in tragedy.

Passengers wait in line to embark.

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Like her sister ship, the Olympic, the Titanic was a luxury ocean liner considered to be a masterpiece of engineering. Tickets for that fateful maiden voyage were extremely sought after. But despite being dubbed “unsinkable,” the Titanic famously ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Striking the Iceberg

The ship’s very first port of call was Cherbourg, located on the northern coast of France – a short distance across the English Channel. From there, she sailed on to Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland before embarking on a westward course to New York City.

The sinking ship scene from the film ‘Titanic.’

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Everything seemed to be going great on board. They were short on lifeboats, but other than that, it was smooth sailing. Until it wasn’t. At around midnight, three days later, tragedy struck. The Titanic hit an iceberg that ripped along the starboard of the ship, which put the ship and all of her passengers in real danger.

The “Unsinkable” Ship

The impact didn’t actually rupture the casting, but it certainly bent the Titanic’s steel plates out of shape. Then, the gaps showed up, and the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean started pouring in. If only four of the ship’s compartments got flooded, then the captain and crew would have been able to handle the situation.

The Titanic film publicity shot.

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However, when five sections became filled with water, it was the beginning of the end for this “unsinkable” ship. Having enough lifeboats certainly would have been an advantage, so the tragedy also impacted White Star Line’s reputation.

How Many People Died on the Titanic?

Just a couple of hours after the collision between the ship and the iceberg, the Titanic plummeted down below the waves, with 2,224 people aboard. Ultimately, 1,500 of those men, women, and children lost their lives in the freezing cold Atlantic waters.

A view of the shipwreck at the bottom of the sea.

Source: YouTube

The Titanic managed to stay above the water for about two hours, but without rescue on the way, the fate of the ship and the passengers aboard was sealed. Around 1,000 souls were still on the Titanic as she dropped 12,500 feet to the bottom of the dark ocean.

Chaos and Tragedy

It was total chaos! It began with allowing just women and children onto the available lifeboats. They were aware that the Titanic was short of lifeboats yet insisted on not filling them up to capacity. Some of the lifeboats were set out before even filling them up halfway, which makes you wonder how many lives could have been saved.

Newspaper clippings of the sinking ship in town.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Limiting Factor mini sub traveled two and a half miles down the Titanic shipwreck, more than a century after the devastating event took place. What they found in the depths brought a new element of tragedy surrounding the dreadful sinking.

Olympic-Class Ocean Liners

The divers found the incident even sadder when they considered how magnificent the Titanic truly was. It was the second of the three White Star Line Olympic-class ocean liners. The Olympic was built and set out on its maiden voyage in 1911, and the equally incredible Titanic set out in April 1912.

A vintage poster from the Titanic.

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The third Olympic-class ship, the Britannic, was released in 1915 – after the Titanic tragedy. As you can imagine, after the Titanic sank, White Star Line’s reputation came crashing down, no matter how hard they tried to keep their name associated with success and innovation.

Protecting Their Reputation

White Star Line did everything to maintain a positive reputation as they were building the Olympic-class ocean liners. Any negative attention could ruin their chances of becoming the most prominent ship company, which was their goal in creating the ship line.

The dock from which the Titanic sailed.

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White Star Line was really hoping to receive notoriety as the top, state-of-the-art ship company on the planet by creating this new, modern, luxury line of boats. The reason the three sister ships were even constructed in the first place was because of some good old-fashioned business rivalry.

Bigger Is Better

White Star Line’s competitors were stealing a march on their rival company, and boss J. Bruce Ismay needed to find a way to get creative in order to keep up with the times. He quickly realized that the future of the industry isn’t necessarily faster ships – but, rather, bigger ones.

The luxurious indoors of the Titanic.

Photo by Carl Simon/United Archives/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The Olympic-class monsters were not only intended to be the largest passenger ships in the world but also the most luxurious. If you wanted to sail with extravagance, the Olympic-class ships were the way to go. Well, at least for the first-class passengers.

Building the Giant Ships

The construction of the Titanic began at the Harland and Wolf shipyard in Belfast, back in 1909. But building a massive and opulent ship wasn’t an overnight job. The entire process, from beginning to end, took two years. Considering how enormous the ships were, two years makes total sense.

Building the Titanic.

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Harland and Wolf had been building boats for White Star Line for over four decades, but the Olympic vessels were the largest ever constructed. Not just by them, but by anyone, ever! This meant massive feats of engineering were required.

A Deathly Construction Job

For instance, just the exterior of the Titanic had 2,000 steel plates. Each one of them was up to six feet across, 30 feet long, and no less than three tons a piece! Yeah, that’s massive. If that didn’t shock you, this probably will.

A row of workers balancing on suspended planks.

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It took a staggering three million rivets to hold those steel plates in place. It was also incredibly dangerous to build a ship that gigantic. During the construction of the Titanic, eight workers sadly lost their lives. Another 246 employees suffered injuries while building the ship.

Five Star Living

But with all the money, effort, and time that went into building the ship, it seemed like nothing could go wrong. Here was a new, stunning, “unsinkable” ship. And as promised, the first-class passengers entered sheer luxury as soon as they stepped foot on the Titanic.

The view of the staircase in the banqueting hall.

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Those lucky folks were able to work out at the gym, enjoy the swimming pool or a Turkish bath. They also had access to the Café Parisien; they could enjoy roast duckling, pâté de foie gras, and peaches in Chartreuse jelly. Sounds fancy!

Even Third-Class Had It Good

Unfortunately, these pleasures weren’t in the cards for third-class passengers. Although the dream vacation wasn’t as delightful as it was for the rich passengers, third-class passengers on the Titanic had better conditions than those on any other ship line of the day.

Playground deck on the ship.

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For example, there were common rooms for leisure and an area on the roof deck for kids to play. The third-class cabins were equipped with electricity, heating, running water, and the space to accommodate between two to six passengers. We may take things like electricity on a cruise for granted, but this was a new concept at the time.

Only One Thing Is Missing

Remember, the Titanic wasn’t your ordinary boat. This giant was over 880 feet from bow to stern, 90 feet across her beam, and 175 feet from the lowest part of the ship to the highest points of her funnels. She also possessed a displacement of an unbelievable 52,310 tons, with 29 boilers powering the engines that ran the four propellers.

A number of the ill-fated Titanic lifeboats.

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With all the glamour, the Titanic, unfortunately forgot something very important. She contained just 20 lifeboats for a total capacity of 1,178 people. As we know, there were a total of 2,224 passengers on board when she hit the iceberg.

That’s More Than Enough

What’s concerning is that more people should have been aboard; there was a lot of room for more passengers on the Titanic. But even the passengers who did show up couldn’t have all been saved. With all this extravagance, why weren’t lifeboats a priority?

A picture of the Titanic.

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Even worse, the Titanic had enough launching gear for 64 wooden lifeboats, which could have carried 4,000 individuals in total – more than the maximum capacity of people, which came in at 3,547. But White Star Line seemed to truly believe the ship was “unsinkable” and made the fateful decision that 20 lifeboats were enough.

White Star Line Followed Protocol

So, was there a reason that such a remarkable ship didn’t include enough lifeboats? You would think it would be a priority. Surely, they didn’t see this coming (or maybe they did according to one conspiracy theory), but either way, did White Star Line break the rules?

A Wireless operator receives a distress message from the captain.

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Although it seems like they didn’t follow safety precautions, they didn’t do anything wrong. British maritime rules stated that any ship over 10,000 tons – such as the Titanic – must include at least 16 lifeboats with a total capacity of 990 people. Naturally, the disaster suggested the shortcomings of this number.

The RMS Titanic Was up to Code

In any case, White Star Line’s RMS Titanic was up to code when she was launched on May 31, 1911. The major event was witnessed by a crowd of 100,000 people who watched the enormous vessel travel down a slipway that was lubricated with 22 tons of animal fat and soap.

The Titanic is about to be launched.

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It took no more than 62 seconds for the grand ship to slide into the River Lagan. From that very moment, the Titanic was officially the largest constructed object floating in the water anywhere on the planet. It was a huge deal!

A Cursed Ship?

There was definitely a reason to celebrate this record-breaking achievement, but tragedy haunted the launch as well. Shipwright James Dobbin was one of the hard-working men knocking away the massive timbers that supported the Titanic before she entered the water.

Remains recovered from the Titanic wreck site.

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In the process, one of the enormous planks fell on Dobbin. Sadly, he died of his injuries just two days later. In hindsight, it’s hard not to interpret this as a bad omen. The ship was linked to death and tragedy even before it sank. It feels like an eerie aura was surrounding the Titanic from the very start.

The White Star Line Curse

In fact, the sinister sensation affected all the Olympic-class ships, considering the RMS Olympic and RMS Britannic suffered a fate all too similar to the Titanic (but that’s a whole separate article). Even once the body of the Titanic was in the water, there was still a lot of work to do.

Cross braces for the inner workings of the Titanic.

Photo by Carl Simon/United Archives/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The next year was spent completing the interior and attaching several bits of the superstructure, like fitting the ship’s distinctive set of four funnels. But only three of them produced fumes from the engines; the rest were to help provide ventilation for the kitchens.

The Titanic Passed the Sea Trials

That wasn’t all. After the fitting out, the Titanic was put through a series of sea trials which started on April 2, 1912. By this time, it was just eight days away before the long-awaited ocean-liner was set to embark on her maiden voyage from Southampton.

Photographs of the Titanic during sea trials.

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It turns out, for all of you who are concerned, the Titanic went through all the necessary inspections. After she was put through her strides in the Irish Sea and was judged to be completely ocean worthy, after passing all the regulations, it was finally time.

The Crew Is Ready

So, on the day of the maiden voyage, the Titanic set off from Southampton and made a brief stop at Cherbourg and Queenstown before sailing its first voyage to the east coast of the U.S. White Star Line put their most senior captain, Edward Smith, in charge of the new ship and her crew of 885 people – only 23 of them were women.

A portrait of the Senior Captain.

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Sixty of the employees on board worked on deck, while 325 worked below as engineers and stokers. There were another 494 crew members hired to serve the passengers. That’s almost enough to run a small city!

At Your Service

There were fishmongers, butchers, bakers, chefs, and waiters ready to feed the passengers whenever they get hungry. Also on board were dishwashers, bed-makers, laundrymen, and cleaners, to make sure the luxury ship looked spick and span at all times. White Star Line wasn’t joking around when they introduced the Titanic to the world.

The officers’ crew at the Titanic.

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A printer published The Atlantic Dailey Bulletin, a daily newspaper. There were also eight musicians on board to entertain passengers. This sounds like a five-star hotel service! Everyone was excited about a memorable voyage experiencing the future of travel.

Not Enough Passengers

But when it came to the passengers, 709 of them traveled third class, also referred to as “steerage.” Meanwhile, 284 people were in second class, and 324 lucky folks enjoyed the luxury of first class. There was a total of 896 men on board.

A picture of Mr. and Mrs. Astor, two wealthy passengers.

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In addition, there were 447 women on the ship and 107 children, most of whom were in steerage. As we know, the Titanic had the ability to hold up to 2,453 passengers, but thankfully, only 1,317 showed up for that fateful maiden voyage. If the Titanic was filled to capacity, hundreds of other people would have died.

What Happened With Ticket Sales?

Still, the low numbers of passengers seem a little strange, especially considering all the publicity the Titanic received. Under normal circumstances, White Star Line would have been expected to fill up such a boat. Especially on her very first voyage. After all the money they put into construction, selling tickets was key!

A first-class ticket from the Titanic.

Photo by Martin Rickett – PA Images/Getty Images

But there’s a good explanation. There was a major coal strike in the U.K., which played a huge role when it came to travel arrangements. For this reason, many people had to reschedule their travel plans at the last minute.

Rich and Powerful Passengers

Business mogul J.P. Morgan famously canceled his ticket a day before the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but apparently, it was because he was sick. Either way, there were some other notable and powerful figures that did climb on board for that fateful trip.

A wealthy woman whose husband survived the ship disaster.

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There was the super-wealthy business tycoon, Benjamin Guggenheim. He was accompanied by his chauffeur, butler, mistress Léontine Aubert, and her maid. There was also the fabulously rich John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Madeline. Sadly, Guggenheim, his chauffeur, his butler, and Astor all perished in the tragedy.

Death Doesn’t Care How Much Money You Have

Owner of Macy’s department store, Isidor Straus, and his wife Ida were also on the Titanic for her maiden voyage. Neither of them survived the accident. Canadian entrepreneur and politician Harry Molson also died when the ship went down.

The first-class passengers at the Titanic.

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At the end of the day, thanks to the lifeboat shortage situation, everyone was fending for themselves. The amount of money you had ultimately meant nothing in a literal life or death situation. Ismay, the head of the company, who apparently had a say in how many lifeboats should be on the ship, ended up surviving the disaster.

J.P. Morgan Got Lucky… Or Did He?

Yes, Ismay ended up on the last lifeboat to be launched from the starboard side of the ship. But he spent the rest of his life being called a coward for getting on the boat instead of giving his seat to a woman or child. Thomas Andrews, the designer of the boat, wasn’t as lucky. After helping others get on lifeboats, he died in the sinking.

A picture of J.P. Morgan.

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But perhaps the luckiest was J.P. Morgan, who basically owned White Star Line as the main investor for the Olympic-class ocean liners. He just happened to change his plans at the last minute. There are many conspiracy theories surrounding J.P. Morgan’s possible involvement in the collision. Put on your tinfoil hats, and we’ll get into all that later.

The Titanic Is Doomed

However, most of those who perished were neither rich nor famous. It turns out the fatal iceberg didn’t really care about your money or status. Everyone was in survival mode, and the first-class passengers were in the same amount of danger as the third-class passengers. That frozen killer was first spotted on April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., by crewman Frederick Fleet.

An iceberg ahead of the ship.

Photo by Carl Simon/United Archives/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

There were a few desperate attempts to steer away from the upcoming iceberg, but it was too late. Without enough time to change its course, the fate of the Titanic was sealed. It hit the iceberg, and the rest is history.

Their First Mistake

The first red flag pointing at a doomed ship was the lowering of the bows. It put the Titanic on an angle that worsened the water flow through the boat’s hull. Then the chaos erupted. It didn’t take people to realize the liner hit something.

The Titanic starts to sink.

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With frantic chaos and terrified passengers, poorly trained crewmen decided to launch the lifeboats when they were only partially full. That was a critical mistake. If that wasn’t bad enough, things got worse. A lot of the steerage passengers were trapped below deck.

It’s Going Down

In the early hours of April 15, at about 2:10 a.m., the Titanic began to go down increasingly fast. Within 10 minutes, the last part of the “unsinkable” vessel above the surface plummeted into the ocean, taking everyone still on board down with her.

A view of the iceberg.

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The poor people clinging on to the rear were pushed into the freezing water and died from exposure. No human being could survive the temperature of the icy cold water for more than a couple of minutes. Getting on a lifeboat was the only way to stay alive. That’s why it’s so shocking that they were launched half-full.

When the “Unsinkable” Sinks

The tragedy marked the end of the “unsinkable” Titanic. The young ship was on its very first voyage, and despite the unrepairable wreckage, the story of the Titanic was far from over. Understandably, the public wanted answers! It was incomprehensible for people who heard the news. How could this “unsinkable” ship sink in this horrifying tragedy?

Citizens stand outside the offices during the inquiry.

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Inquiries in both Britain and the U.S. came up with a few conclusions of their own. It was alleged that Captain Smith, who died in the sinking, didn’t pay enough attention to iceberg warnings. And the actual ship? She was supposedly going too fast.

Lost at the Bottom of the Ocean

Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, the Titanic was completely lost. Deep down in those dark, icy waters, her exact location was a mystery. Shortly after the sinking, family members of some of the wealthy casualties raised money to search for the wreckage.

The Titanic lies under the ocean.

Photo by Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Unfortunately, that plan was doomed to fail. At the time, diving technology was not nearly as advanced as it is now. It wouldn’t have been possible for them to get to the depths of the ocean where the ships rests. There was a gruesome suggestion of dropping dynamite on the boat, forcing bodies to rise to the surface.

Some Brilliant Ideas

That idea was obviously impractical since no one actually knew where the Titanic wreckage even was. Everyone was just desperate to get closure for their loved ones. People came up with insane ideas, like raising the ship with magnets.

The Titanic expedition.

Photo by Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Another proposal was to bring the Titanic to the surface with balloons. But perhaps the craziest plan was brought up in the 1970s. The suggestion was to cram the hull with ping-pong balls to float the broken ship to the surface. That plan has so many issues that I can’t even believe someone thought of it. We learned about this in middle school physics class.

Finding the Shipwreck

After seven decades of unanswered questions about the missing ship, a French American team found the shipwreck using a remotely controlled submarine named Argo. In the years following, other manned subs visited the Titanic, but the last expedition happened in 2005. This brings us back to the mini submarine, Limiting Factor.

A view of the submarine used to go under water.

Photo by Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

We mentioned how they were 12,500 feet underwater, gazing at the ruined remains of the once “unsinkable” Titanic. The divers were able to snap some stunning shots of the wreckage using the high-tech 4K cameras they brought along.

After All These Years

Diver and boss of Caldan Oceanic, Victor Vescovo, led the expedition in August 2019. It was the first of its kind in almost a decade and a half. Vescovo was also one of the guys involved in the five dives that Limiting Factor made.

A submarine goes on an expedition.

Photo by Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Other team members included Titanic history expert Parks Stephenson and lead planner Rob McCallum. Investigating such a historic ship is certainly fascinating. It’s always interesting to see what items people brought onboard in 1912. But what the intrepid voyagers ended up finding was deeply shocking.

The Deteriorating Ship

With over a century under water, the Titanic is disappearing all too quickly. Expedition member and president of Limiting Factor owner of Triton Submarines, Patrick Lahey, revealed that the Titanic is vanishing during a press release from Triton. He explained how the ship would soon be gone.

The deteriorated ship lies underwater.

Photo by Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

As Lahey put it: “The most fascinating aspect [of the expedition] was seeing how the Titanic is being consumed by the ocean and returning to its elemental form while providing refuge for a remarkably diverse number of animals.” What goes on underwater is truly interesting.

Beautiful Underwater Wildlife

A lot of things in the Titanic have disappeared. One of the most famous artifacts from the ship, known as the “captain bathtub,” is no longer observable at the site. What is left, however, is the thriving underwater wildlife living there and the stunning images were captured by the divers.

A night vision of the Titanic.

Photo by Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Stephenson also emphasized the condition the vessel was in when he spoke to the BBC in 2019: “[The] Titanic is returning to nature.” Powerful ocean currents, the acidic component of saltwater, and metal-eating bacteria are all contributing factors to the fading of the Titanic.

Not All That Shocking

As the Titanic spent over a century at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, her disintegration shouldn’t be all that shocking. Expedition scientist Clare Fitzsimmons explained that “there are microbes on the shipwreck that are eating away the iron of the wreck itself [and] creating ‘rusticle’ structures, which is a much weaker form of the metal.”

An interactive exhibition at the Museum.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sadly, when disturbed, rusticles turn to dust, putting the Titanic in danger of completely diminishing. It seems like that ship is slowly but gradually breaking up in the sea in which it sank over a hundred years ago.