40 Years Ago: The Titanic Was Found and Lost

This story appeared in the September/October 2020 issue as part of Discover magazines 40th anniversary coverage. We hope youll subscribe to Discover and help support our next 40 years of delivering science that matters. 

From the October 1980 Issue

The voice on the ship-to-shore phone sounded excited. We think weve found the Titanic! Mike Harris, leader of a much-publicized expedition that had been plowing the Atlantic off the Newfoundland coast since July [1980], was searching for the storied liner that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. Harris and his crew had good reason for optimism. They carried $250,000 worth of advanced sonar equipment, specially designed under the supervision of Columbia Universitys Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory. They could not miss.

But they did. Late in August the researchers docked in Boston, driven home by bad weather and short supplies and worse, admitting failure. What the sonar equipment had found was not the Titanic, but a ledge in a deep-water canyon.

The story as it appeared in the October 1980 issue of Discover.

Still, there was some hope. Fred N. Spiess, director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, thinks that the crew must have been close to its objective. Sonar readings showed several promising targets. If one of these is the Titanic, says Spiess, it is probably either broken up or partially buried. It is highly likely that the wreck is intermingled with geological features.

A new expedition ....

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