It was a moonless night, and quite foggy. Visibility was terrible. It was just as the conditions would have been on the fateful night of April 15th, 1912. I slept lightly that night, thinking about the lives lost, and the ghosts of that catastrophe.
Next morning, the carefully choreographed MIR support teams of the Akademik Keldysh hoisted our eighteen tonne submersible over the side, into the water with apparent ease. Victor opened up the ballast tanks, the submersible took in the seawater, and we started to dive and sink down to the murky depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
Within ten minutes, the ambient light from the portholes disappeared. As we dived, we felt a surreal experience, as if we were travelling through outer space. As aquanauts, we were descending into an alien environment so potentially hostile, with close to zero chance of assistance from the outside world if we required rescuing.
We had some guides for the early part of the journey. Victor illuminated the pitch-black environment with the piercing lights of the MIR. A pod of pilot whales swam alongside our craft. They were attracted by the sonar navigation of our submersible. The pilot whales escorted us down to about 300 metres – like caretakers of the ocean – giving us a personal tour of their domain. It was fantastic. But, as we went below 300 metres, they ditched us, as if to say: ‘You guys are going far too deep.’
To conserve power, the MIR submersibles run without external lights. However, Victor occasionally switched them on to allow us to observe passing marine life. The dive down into the abyss took under four hours. The sea life was unlike anything I’d ever seen. When we descended below 1,000 metres, the bioluminescent creatures started to come into view. They virtually lit up themselves, like Christmas trees, becoming transparent.
After three and a half hours, we finally observed it on the radar screen. My heart was rapidly pounding. It was an outline of the most awe-inspiring structure I have ever witnessed in my life. We were still twenty-eight minutes from reaching the ocean bed, yet the bow of Titanic was clearly visible on the Titanic was clearly visible on the radar screen.
The image grew more vast and clearer. Exactly twenty-eight minutes had passed and then, in a moment of sheer ecstasy, we came upon the bow of Titanic. The bow looked even larger than I expected. As we motored around it, up and down, I was struck by just how vast it was. And yet we were seeing only a third of the bow. The lower two thirds are embedded into the sea floor.
Titanic was over 300 metres long. Every metre that we travelled, we came upon some relic, some treasure. We saw an old chest, suitcases that once belonged to immigrants, china cups, mugs, plates, wine bottles, ceramic tiles, toilets, bathtubs, light fixtures and shoes. We saw pairs of shoes, side by side, seemingly trapped together. At that depth in the salt water, bodies and bones would have decomposed within a couple of years. Those shoes, I realised, were what remained of human bodies.
The rocks that struck
Thousands of small rocks are littered around the wreck of Titanic. They are called Ilulissat rocks because of the town of Ilulissat on Greenland’s west coast. Experts believe that these rocks beside the wreck were part of the iceberg that the Titanic struck, and that the iceberg most likely travelled all the way from the polar ice caps of Greenland. In effect, Titanic hit a gigantic mass of stones glued together by Ilulissat polar ice cap.
As we skimmed the ocean floor, the two MIR submersibles stayed reasonably close to each other. The amazing sights we saw teased us. We came across Captain Smith’s cabin, with its own bath. We knew where it was located from drawings of the wreck, and the contents confirmed it was indeed the captain’s. We cruised past his marble bath and all the copper piping, still connected.
A chaotic ruin
Travelling the length of Titanic, we moved from the bow section through the debris field until we eventually came to the stern. It’s quite hard to work out which pieces belong to the stern. It looks like the entire stern had gone through a food processor.
The chaos actually surprised me. It’s obvious the stern imploded on impact. When Titanic hit the iceberg, the ship buckled, and thousands of rivets came undone. The impact was on the starboard side. Resting on the ocean floor, the bow and stern lie about 600 metres apart, facing in opposite directions. The stern must have twisted on the way down and imploded. There are thousands of items shattered all over the place.
At the stern section, when we were viewing the propellers, we had a very close call. In order to get down to the propellers, we went deep into the aft section of the stern, beneath the overhanging promenade decking which – at any time – could have entombed us. No-one mentioned the risk. A piece of promenade decking dropped on our MIR, smashing into pieces because of its decayed state. We were forced to use the manipulator arm to wrestle off the remaining piece of promenade decking
The aquanauts return
After a late lunch, Victor blew the ballast tanks using compressed air, and the MIR became positively buoyant again, allowing us to rise to the surface. Victor was quite relaxed about everything. So calm in fact that he and Reda both seemed to nod off to sleep during parts of the slow journey ascent to the mother ship. Reda was exhausted. I was wide-awake, kicking back and listening to music on my iPod
I sat there thinking about all the marvellous sights I had just witnessed, and staring at the luminescent fish, flicking the lights on myself.
About the writer
Nik Halik is a professional adventurer and author of The Thrillionaire. He has climbed the highest mountains in four continents, trained for spaceflight and chased tornadoes. For more information, visit: www.thethrillionaires.com