Never-Before-Seen Footage Offers an Eerie Look at the Underwater Shipwreck of the Titanic

The Titanic sets out for its maiden voyage in 1912

The Titanic as seen before its ill-fated maiden voyage in 1912. (Getty Images)

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More than 110 years since the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the dead of night, becoming one of the most infamous maritime disasters in history, you might think there’s no more to discover about the iconic ship. But a newly released video offers a look at the wreckage that the public has never seen.

On Wednesday, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution unveiled more than an hour of footage from the Titanic’s watery grave at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It was taken back in 1986, and it’s actually the first video to ever be captured of the wreckage — but until now, it’s been under wraps, seen only by researchers.

Watch the newly-released footage of the Titanic wreckage here:

The story of the Titanic’s terrible fate is well-known: The allegedly “unsinkable” ocean liner collided with an iceberg in the late hours of April 14, 1912, during its widely publicized maiden voyage. Without enough lifeboats for the more than 2,000 people on board, about 1,500 of them perished — including some of the day’s most famous and wealthy members of society, like John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim.

The sinking made headlines around the country, prompted an inquiry by the United States Senate, and led to innumerable books and documentaries about the fateful disaster. But for decades after the tragedy, the underwater location of the ship itself was a complete mystery.

Many expeditions had tried and failed to locate the Titanic, but the depth and breadth of the Atlantic made it incredibly difficult. That changed in 1985, thanks to an intrepid explorer named Robert Ballard, who is responsible for the new footage that was released just this week.

Ballard was interested in searching for the Titanic, and he ultimately found it after striking a deal with the U.S. Navy, which financed an examination of the wreck sites of the U.S.S. Thresher and Scorpion, nuclear submarines that dated back to the 1960s. The Navy agreed that if Ballard completed his work with those submarines promptly, he could use the remaining time for Titanic hunting.

When Ballard ultimately did find the ship, the discovery brought mixed emotions. Someone on the crew broke out a bottle of champagne, but the excitement quickly deflated when they realized it was nearly 2:20 a.m. — the exact time Titanic had finally slipped under the surface of the sea back in 1912.

“We were embarrassed we were celebrating,” Ballard later said. “All of a sudden we realized that we should not be dancing on someone’s grave.”

But they did explore the site, and it was the first time any human had laid eyes on the ship in more than 70 years. Ballard’s crew took stunning photos of the wreckage that remain famous today, and they also made some monumental discoveries about Titanic. For one thing, they were able to confirm for the first time the long-held theory that the ship had split into two halves as it flooded and foundered. They also found plenty of eerie sights: Though any human remains had long since been consumed by creatures of the deep, many of the accoutrements of life were surprisingly well-preserved at the bottom of the ocean, including articles of clothing, children’s toys, and even intact pieces of fine china.

Sets of unbroken breakfast dishes were found on the ocean floor near the wreck site of Titanic. (Getty Images)
Sets of unbroken breakfast dishes were found at wreck site of Titanic. (Getty Images)

But it would be another year before they were able to capture video. In 1986, Ballard returned to the dark depths with two submersibles that could capture up-close-and-personal footage of the wreckage: the human-occupied Alvin and the remotely controlled Jason Junior (also called JJ). It was during this expedition that Ballard recorded the fascinating look at the ship that’s just been publicly released this week.

The new video comes at a time when Titanic has recently returned to the public consciousness, thanks to the 25th anniversary of Titanic, the Oscar-winning 1997 historical epic that’s since become one of the highest-grossing films of all time. It’s currently back in theaters with a remastered 3D version, and director James Cameron recently mounted an experiment to answer fans’ most burning question about the movie: Could Jack and Rose have both fit on that notorious floating door?