TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic's Big Piece
On August 26th, 1996, the French research vessel Nadir left New York, carrying the submersible Nautile. These stalwarts of previous expeditions to the wreck of Titanic were on yet another mission, but this was certainly a different kind of mission to any previous ones the two IFREMER vessels had participated in before. This time, RMST Inc., the salvers in possession of Titanic, planned to raise a section of Titanic's hull wall, christened 'The Big Piece'. This section of corroded, buckled, 86-year old steel weighs about 20 tons, and measures approximately 25ft by 15ft. It has four portholes, three of which still contain the actual glass and brass fittings.
The plan was to raise the section of hull using diesel-filled flotation bags, diesel being lighter than water, and therefore providing the lift, in much the same way as an airship uses lighter than air helium to provide the necessary lift. The hull would hopefully be raised to a level of about two hundred feet below the ocean's surface, and then towed into the shallower waters nearer land, but as we know with the Titanic story, fate is always ready to deal the players an unlucky hand. Would the operation be a success?
Accompanying the Nadir out of New York were two liners carrying passengers who had paid $5,000 per head to witness the historical recovery. A massive international press contingent was also present aboard the two ships, proving just how newsworthy Titanic still is even in this modern day and age. One of these liners is visible on the near horizon of this picture here on the left, and also noticeable in the water are the red diesel-filled floatation bags.
Upon arrival at the wreck site on the 28th of August, the delicate task of fitting the lifting cables to the Big Piece was carried out first, and four diesel-filled flotation bags were attached, one at a time, until the hull section began to show some signs of movement. The bags did their job well, and the hull section began to rise slowly up from the seabed, up through the two-and-and-a-half miles of sea it had fallen down through over 85 years previously, on that cold night in April, 1912.
The Nadir attached a towline to the flotation bags, which can be seen here in the photograph on the left, with the Big Piece still some two-hundred feet down in the water, and set sail for New York. The hardest part of the mission was surely over, it was simply a matter of towing the section back towards land. But, and there are plenty of 'buts' in the Titanic's short life, the seas were beginning to get heavier and heavier, thanks to Hurricane Eduardo which was making life in the North Atlantic at that time very dangerous. In the early hours of August 30th, the ever-increasing vertical movement was placing unbearable stresses on the lifting chains and cables which connected the floatation bags to the section of hull. They gave way, allowing the Big Piece to return to the seabed for the second time in it's 86-year life.
Two years later, in the July of 1998, RMST Inc. launched yet another mission, not only to rescue the errant Big Piece, but also to carry out a whole month of artifact recovery and exploration in and around the wreck of Titanic. A small fleet, comprising Nadir, Abeille Supporter, Petrel 5 and Ocean Voyager, were on hand to support the operation.
The method of recovery this time around was much simpler - raise the Big Piece to the surface using the diesel-filled flotation bags, and winch it aboard the Abeille Supporter. Finding the hull section had been relatively straightforward, as the Global Positioning System (GPS) had recorded the exact position it had been lost in. A dive in the submersible Nautile located the Big Piece, remarkably standing upright on the seabed, apparently none-the-worse after its high speed journey to the bottom two years previously!
On Monday, August 10th, the Big Piece broke the surface, and was this time firmly attached to the bright yellow 'A'-frame of the Abeille Supporter, pictured here on the left. Nadir's sirens sounded a salute as the hull section was lashed securely to the vessel.