Dr Ballard 1986 Titanic Expedition (Credit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Twenty-Five years ago this summer, Dr. Robert Ballard led the first manned dive to the wreck of RMS Titanic, over two miles below the surface of the North Atlantic and 450 miles short of her planned destination in New York.

Since then Dr. Ballard, one of the world’s most celebrated oceanographers, has become synonymous with the Titanic’s legend, an involvement which will continue through a dedicated Ocean Exploration Centre and Immersive Theatre at the new Titanic Belfast visitor attraction being built overlooking the slipway where Titanic was constructed.

Among other things Dr. Ballard is providing unrivalled footage of Titanic’s wreck to be incorporated into a hi-tech interactive floor that will give visitors a unique fly-over of the ship’s final resting place, as well live links to future expeditions to remote, unexplored areas of the seabed.  Dr. Ballard will also be speaking at Titanic Belfast when it opens next Easter.

Dr. Ballard said: “Titanic will always continue to fascinate, because it is a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare himself.  She was the largest moving object of her time, some claimed she was unsinkable, but in one on of the greatest acts of hubris in history she sank on her maiden voyage.  It’s a morality tale which could have come directly from Hollywood.

For me, however, discovering Titanic has been an opportunity to motivate young people to become more interested in science and to encourage the need for further ocean exploration.  For that reason I’m very happy to be involved with Titanic Belfast’s Ocean Exploration Centre which will help enthuse people about our oceans.”

The first manned dive to Titanic happened on the morning of July 13th, 1986, using the submersible ‘Alvin’.  Joining Dr. Ballard were Chief Pilot, Ralph Hollis, and co-pilot Dudley Foster from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

Recalling the day Dr. Ballard added: “Our first dive to Titanic started out in picture-perfect fashion on a gorgeous summer day. It was, however, a risky venture as there was no back-up submarine to ‘Alvin’.  With no hope of rescue if something went wrong, we felt a bit like astronauts landing on a distant planet.

“Alvin is not a big vessel and there was no scope for any of us to stand-up or even stretch, indeed, we couldn’t even sit up straight.  At 8.35am we began the gentle, but cold, two and half hour descent.

“At about 100 ft above the bottom we stopped and stared out of our view ports, but there was no Titanic and no debris field, we were slightly off course thanks to a problem with Alvin’s sonar.  At this stage an alarm went off to warn us that battery power was also critical due to a leak, but as none of us wanted to return empty handed we guessed where Titanic was.

“Suddenly the bottom began to look strange as it began to slope steeply upward. There, directly in front of us was an apparently endless slab of black steel. Almost at once though, we had to return to the surface due to the lack of battery power.”

Engineers worked all night on Alvin to replace its damaged batteries and the dive on July 14th was more successful, completing an almost three hour tour of Titanic’s bow, including two landings on the wreck’s deck and a visit to the opening for the Grand Staircase.  Further successful dives produced remarkable images of Titanic, including a chandelier, remnants of equipment in the gymnasium, chinaware, silver serving trays, champagne bottles and a ceramic doll’s head.

Tim Husbands, Titanic Belfast’s CEO said: “We’re thrilled that somebody of Dr. Ballard’s standing is involved with Titanic Belfast, completing the story of how Titanic was built, lost and then found, and into the future with live links to future explorations by Dr. Ballard.

“Titanic Belfast’s Ocean Exploration Centre will also give an amazing insight into the geography, sea life, marine archaeology and mapping of Northern Ireland’s dramatic coast line as well as access to internationally acclaimed marine research at local universities.”

For more information on Titanic Belfast please visit www.titanicbelfast.com