September 1st 2020 marked 35 years since the wreck of the RMS Titanic was discovered in the North Atlantic Ocean. You will no doubt have heard of the fateful voyage of Titanic, when just before midnight on 14th April 1912 she struck an iceberg. At 02.20 am on the morning of 15th April she finally succumbed to the damage and descended into the waters, colliding with the ocean floor where she lay, undiscovered for 73 years. It was 1985 before she would be seen again by an American Oceanographer and marine geologist, Robert Ballard and his team. It wasn’t all plain sailing for them to find her, Ballard’s first mission in 1977 failed when a drilling pipe with sonar equipment and a camera attached to it broke. Ballard knew he needed to improve his technology if he was going to find Titanic and he had competition; in 1979 a Texas millionaire, Jack Grimm proclaimed he was going to find Titanic. Grimm was determined and made three attempts during the early ‘80s; in 1980, 1981, 1983. They say money doesn’t buy you happiness and the same could be said for luck, as unfortunately for Grimm, he did not succeed.
During Grimm’s searches, Ballard was busy working on new technologies and strategies, he created Argo. Argo was a deep-sea remote-controlled vehicle with cameras that could be towed behind a ship. In 1982 Ballard secured financial backing from the US Navy to search for the Titanic but there was a catch...the US Navy agreed to a sixty-day mission but the primary purpose of the mission was to find two missing submarines, the USS Thresher and USS Scorpion. Ballard discovered both submarines during the mission but he was left with just twelve days to find the Titanic. On the 57th day of the sixty-day mission, Ballard and Argo were successful. Argo had detected one of the Titanic’s boilers. Celebrations on board the ship were short-lived when the crew realised the time was almost 02.20 am, the exact time the Titanic had sunk 73 years ago.
It was reported that Ballard didn’t speak about the discovery until some four months later; after having spent such a large part of his life researching the events around the Titanic, reading and hearing real-life stories and the loss of lives, then finally realising his life goal; it must have been overwhelming. To this day, Ballard remains a strong opponent for any artefacts being retrieved and for raising the Titanic. In an article with history.com, he said “There is no light at this great depth and little life can be found. It is a quiet and peaceful place – and a fitting place for the remains of the greatest of sea tragedies to rest. Forever may it remain that way.” We can learn a lot from Ballard’s determination, resilience and perseverance.
And not forgetting his compassion for the 1,500 souls whose final resting place will forever be the ocean.
Robert Ballard’s mission to locate ship wrecks continued throughout his career. In 1989 he found the Word War II ship, the Bismarck which was sunk in 1941. Similar to Titanic, Bismarck was believed to be an unsinkable ship. In 2002 he located Lieutenant John F Kennedy’s U.S. Navy torpedo boat, PT-109. The boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer in 1943 in the South Pacific.