RMS Titanic has been a source of fascination since its tragic sinking in the early hours of April 15 1912 . For decades there was hectic debate about the whys and wherefores of the event, the evidence of witnesses limited by the fact that only 705 of those aboard survived the disaster, more than 1500 dying, among them so many of the officers and crew. Speculation about what precisely happened and why (on a clear night) the ship hit the iceberg developed into a mini-industry. On September 1 1985 some of the answers started to be found, as the Titanic herself was rediscovered.
Commander Dr Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel, heading an American-French team, located the wreck some 2.3 miles beneath the waves, 13 miles away from the point given as the ship was sinking. They used very powerful sonar equipment aboard the research vessel Knorr, and it is said they had a very limited time to find the ship: Ballard had obtained funding for the search for RMS Titanic from the US Navy provided he carried out a secret search before that for the USS Thresher, a nuclear submarine lost in 1963, and examine the wreck of the USS Scorpion, another American nuclear submarine lost in 1968; that part of his mission completed Ballard had only enough funding for 12 days of searching for the Titanic.
The wreck of the legendary liner was found in two pieces, contrary to the findings of the commission of inquiry after the disaster. The stern and the bow sections were some 600m apart. In between these two giant pieces of metal, and scattered for hundreds of metres around, as Ballard found when he returned the following year with the submersible Alvin, there are artefacts from the ship littering the sea bed. Ballard regarded the site as a grave, and refrained from collecting such material, but since then more than 5000 items have been taken from the Titanic, arousing some controversy and provoking lengthy litigation about the ownership of the ship and the site.