Ellsworth Man Was among the First to See the Sunken Titanic

By Miller, Kevin | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), April 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Ellsworth Man Was among the First to See the Sunken Titanic


Miller, Kevin, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


ELLSWORTH, Maine -- Thanks to a series of grainy photographs taken the year before, the three men huddled inside a small research submarine in July 1986 had a general sense of what to expect as they slowly descended 12,000 feet to the stern of the Titanic.

But what Ellsworth resident John Salzig witnessed that day as the sub finally reached the shipwreck is still vivid in his mind 26 years later.

"There were portholes intact. It was kind of eerie," Salzig said. "The lights would reflect off of them and you would almost expect to see someone looking out."

Salzig was one of a small group of submarine pilots who accompanied explorer Robert Ballard to the bottom of the ocean inthe Alvin, a submersible operated by Salzig's employer, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the U.S. Navy.

One year earlier, Ballard had discovered the location of the ship that sank on April 15, 1912, claiming more than 1,500 lives. He teamed up with Woods Hole and the Navy to fully explore the shipwreck in the Alvin, a 23-foot-long submersible capable of diving more than 14,000 feet below the surface.

Salzig was part of the fourth manned dive on the wreck during the July 1986 mission. But Salzig's dive team that day -- himself, Ballard and one other pilot -- was the first to see the stern of the enormous ship since it sank 74 years earlier and to explore part of the huge debris field.

Then a 20-some-year-old mechanical engineer, Salzig was struck by the condition of the items scattered along the ocean floor around and between the two ship sections: a large silver punch bowl still glistening in the lights of the submersible and its remote- controlled camera, brass pots, dinnerware emblazoned with the "Red Star" emblem of the ship's owner and racks of champagne bottles still corked.

"One of the things that struck me when we approached one of the boilers, which was probably 23 feet tall was a tea cup resting perfectly on top of it," Salzig said Friday morning while seated in an Ellsworth coffee house. …

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