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True depth of damage to Titanic

New images show ‘corkscrewing’ stern crashed violently to seabed

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

New photographs obtained using state-of-the-art technology have revealed the speed at which the Titanic plummeted to the ocean floor.

Explorers of the Titanic — which sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York 100 years ago — have known for more than 25 years where the bow and stern landed after the vessel struck an iceberg.

However, these latest images generated by independent researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution show, for the first time, the full extent of the damage caused when the Belfast-built White Star Liner sank on April 15, 1912 with the loss of more than 1,500 people.

The digitally-enhanced pictures, obtained using remote- controlled underwater robots, are due to be published in next month’s edition of The National Geographic magazine.

They were taken during a two-month expedition of the site during August and September 2010. Side-scan and multi-beam sonar were used to sweep the mangled wreckage and store minute details of the ship as it lay on the seabed off Newfoundland. The robots also gathered details from inside the liner.

During repeated sweeps, the robots stored ‘ribbons' of data, and the information was meticulously pieced together by researchers so the wreckage could be observed as a whole unit.

The information reveals that the bow, or front half of the ship, was the first to fall into the depths. After being pierced repeatedly by the edge of the iceberg — some holes of which are still visible — the bow crashed nose first to the ocean bed.

The back end of the ship — the stern — snapped off with water filling in from the lower portion of the stern, causing it to sink in a dramatic descent. Entire floors collapsed, water smashing the internal structure of the ship as it raced through the icy water at a rapid pace. The fast speed and power of the water had a ‘corkscrew' effect on the ship as it twisted the steel so that it no longer even looks like the vessel that left the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been studying the wreck for decades, and one of its lead archaeologists spoke to The National Geographic to explain the significance of the technology used to capture the images.

James Delgado said: “In the past, trying to understand Titanic was like trying to understand Manhattan at midnight in a rainstorm — with a flashlight.

“Now we have a site that can be understood and measured. In years to come this historic map may give voice to those people who were silenced when the water closed over them.”

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