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‘Raise the Titanic? It’s Silly,’ Scientist Declares

Times Staff Writer

Trying to salvage the Titanic from its watery grave 2.5 miles beneath the sea would be ridiculous, prohibitively expensive and dangerous, according to a top official of the marine research facility that says it has found the sunken luxury liner.

“Raise the Titanic? It’s silly,” declared Robert Spindel, head of the engineering department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass., which was joined in the effort by a marine research agency run by the French government. “The wreckage will remain there forever.”

But Texas millionaire Jack Grimm, who financed three previous hunts for the vessel, vowed to bankroll a dive to retrieve artifacts from the ship, which struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic in 1912.

“We never intended to salvage the wreckage (of the entire ship),” the Abilene oilman explained. “We just want to dive on it and get some of the valuables. . . . What’s the ship’s bell from the Titanic worth? (And) none of the safety deposit boxes in the purser’s office were ever opened.”

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The French and American researchers believe they pinpointed and photographed the long-sought wreck off Newfoundland over the weekend.

The British ship, advertised as unsinkable and carrying several prominent millionaires and celebrities, sank during its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. More than 1,500 of the 2,200 passengers drowned in the calamity, which has been widely memorialized in books, movies and song.

Actually, Spindel explained, the primary goal of the research mission was not to find the ship but to test sophisticated, new remote-controlled underwater camera and television equipment developed at Woods Hole.

He said that Robert Ballard, the chief American scientist on the mission, described the wreckage as in excellent condition and looking like a “museum piece.”

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In a ship-to-shore telephone conversation with ABC News, Ballard said the wreck is “standing upright on the bottom.”

CBS News on Tuesday broadcast a videotape of remote-controlled robot television pictures showing the wreck lying in a deep ocean canyon. The dark and blurry pictures show one of the ship’s huge boilers and the stoking doors on the boilers. Researchers also reported seeing portholes and the corroded bulkhead of the officers’ quarters, CBS said.

Stormy seas temporarily forced a halt to exploration Tuesday, but Spindel said the scientists will resume photographing the hulk for two or three more days before returning to port.

He said Ballard and others aboard the research vessel expressed hope that the area where the Titanic went down will be left undisturbed and will be turned into a memorial for those who died, including industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim and financier John Jacob Astor.

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That notion was applauded by Edward Kamuda, founder of the Massachusetts-based Titanic Historical Society.

Kamuda also cast doubt on stories that the wreckage contains a multimillion-dollar treasure of sunken money, diamonds and other jewels. He said survivors reported seeing many people fleeing the purser’s office with their valuables before the ship went down.

“Whatever wasn’t claimed was put in canvas sacks by stewards and hauled on deck to be put on life boats, but it never made it because the ship took a sudden lurch and everything was dumped overboard,” Kamuda explained.

Grimm, however, is convinced that there is something of value to find. He said he plans an expedition either next summer or in 1987.

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