06 July 2008

Titanic found in '85 during secret US DOD mission

The team that found the wreck of the RMS Titanic was working for the United States Department of Defense at the time.

Oceanographer Bob Ballard was under contract to survey wrecks of the USS Thresher (SSN-593) and the USS Scorpion (SSN-589).  Once that work had been completed, Ballard and his crew were able to spend the final 12 days of the voyage hunting for Titanic.

p64suroiThey found Titanic approximately where they expected and in several pieces, again as expected. The 1985 search included the Atlantis II, support ship for the deep submersible Alvin, as well as the French deep ocean ship Le Suroit,  shown right, in 1/200 scale.

DOD was interested in gaining further information about why the submarines sank during the 1960s.  Both were lost suddenly. 

Thresher41 Thresher (model left) sank about 350 kilometres (190 nautical miles) east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

 Scorpion sank about 740 kilometres southwest of the Azores.

DOD also wanted to conduct an environmental survey since the nuclear reactors of both ships had been lost and exposed to the deep ocean since the sinkings.

A board of inquiry concluded Thresher had been lost due to a series of events following a catastrophic leak in the ship's cooling system while at a test depth of 1,000 feet.  Ballard's evidence confirmed that theory.

SkipSc19mgLess is certain about the loss of Scorpion, (right, 1/283 model) . Evidence collected in the 1985 mission apparently points to the submarine being struck by one of her own torpedoes which had run wild. 

Discovery of the Titanic provided convenient cover for the classified portion of the voyage. At least one Internet site mentions the Titanic as the primary mission with the submarine wrecks being diversions.

Local angle:  Cape Race wireless station received Titanic's distress call in April 1912.  Data collected from the sound underwater surveillance system (SOSUS) station at Argentia helped pinpoint the wreck of Scorpion in 1968.