Rare, never-before-seen video of the Titanic shipwreck was released to the public Wednesday to coincide with the film Titanic’s 25th anniversary. The 80 minutes of uncut footage were shot in 1986 by a joint team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the French Institute for Research and Exploration of the Sea (IFREMER) during the first detailed study of the wreck.
“More than a century after the loss of Titanic, the human stories embodied in the great ship continue to resonate,” Titanic director and ocean advocate James Cameron says in a WHOI statement. “By releasing this footage, WHOI is helping tell an important part of a story that spans generations and circles the globe.”
On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City. For passengers in first class, the vessel was the epitome of luxury—a grand staircase descended down into the first class dining room; the lounge, reading and writing room and Parisian cafe were elegantly furnished; and a swimming pool, Turkish baths, squash courts and a gym provided passengers with activities to fill their time during the voyage. The ship’s parent company insisted the liner’s safety was also state-of-the-art, with sixteen watertight compartments that could be sealed in case of an emergency.
But just four days later, the ship struck an iceberg, slicing several of the boat’s compartments and flooding them. Within just a few hours, the “unsinkable” vessel disappeared beneath the waves. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 died.
Efforts to find and salvage the ship began soon after it sank, but technical limitations and the vast search area made it impossible, per WHOI. But by 1985, new imaging technology, including a towed underwater camera, allowed a team of oceanographers from WHOI and IFREMER to discover the ship’s final resting place in the Atlantic. The following year, a team returned to the wreck site in a three-person research submersible called Alvin and remotely operated a second vehicle, called Jason Jr.
“The first thing I saw coming out of the gloom at 30 feet was this wall, this giant wall of riveted steel that rose over 100 and some feet above us,” says former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Robert Ballard, who was on the WHOI team, per Rodrique Ngowi and Mark Pratt of the Associated Press. “I never looked down at the Titanic. I looked up at the Titanic. Nothing was small.”
The team discovered the wreck at about 2 a.m., and the Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. almost 75 years prior.
“She sinks in 20 minutes,” Ballard remembers a crew member saying, per the AP. “We actually stopped the operation. … We had a small memorial service for all those that had died. But we were there, we were at this spot.”
While no flesh or bones remained from the victims, Ballard recalls seeing shoes, including what looked like those from a mother and a baby, per the AP. As his submersible rose to the surface, he remembers peering through the ship’s portholes.
“It was like people looking back at us,” he tells the publication. “It was pretty haunting actually.”
Over 111 years since it sank, the story of the Titanic has captivated the public, inspiring countless songs, poems, films and art. In 1997, the blockbuster film Titanic was released starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack and Rose. To commemorate the 25th anniversary, a remastered version of the film began playing in theaters on February 10.