Debris field of Titanic shipwreck mapped

Nickalas Tabbert

Researchers in Maine have created a comprehensive map of the entire 3-by-5-mile Titanic debris field and hope it will provide new clues about what exactly happened 100 years ago to cause the superliner's fatality.

This composite image is made from more than 100,000 photos taken in 2010 (AP Photo/RMS Titanic Inc.)An expedition team used sonar imaging and more than 100,000 photos taken from underwater robots to create the map, The Associate Press said.  With it, hundreds of objects and pieces of the vessel are visible.

Using marks on the muddy ocean bottom, for intstance, researchers think the stern of the ship rotated like a helicopter blade as the ship sank, rather than plunging straight down.

Explorers of the Titanic – which sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City – have known for more than 25 years where the bow and stern landed after the vessel struck an iceberg, eventually killing more than 1,500 people.

Previous maps of the floor around the wreckage were incomplete, said Parks Stephenson, a Titanic historian who consulted on the 2010 expedition.  Studying the site with old maps was like trying to navigate a dark room with a weak flashlight, the AP said.

"With the sonar map, it's like suddenly the entire room lit up and you can go from room to room with a magnifying glass and document it," he said.  "Nothing like this has ever been done for the Titanic site."

Mapping took place in the summer of 2010 during an expedition to the Titanic led by RMS Titanic Inc., the legal custodian of the wreck, along with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Mass., and the Waitt Institute of La Jolla, Calif.

By examining the debris, investigators can now answer questions like how the ship broke apart, how it went down and whether there was a fatal flaw in the design, said Rushmore DeNooyer, who is co-producer of a History channel program that will air footage of the new discoveries on April 15, exactly 100 years after the wreck.

Some of those questions will be answered on the show, said Dirk Hoogstra, a senior vice president at History.

"We've got this vision of the entire wreck that no one has ever seen before," he said.  "Because we have, we're going to be able to reconstruct exactly how the wreck happenend.  It's groundbreaking, jaw-dropping stuff."