New Hampshire Native and booking agent for the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, David Christensen, in the submersible during the Harrison Expedition in 2005. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
April 18, 2012PLYMOUTH—For the past 100 years, the tragedy surrounding the Titanic has kept individuals and scientists captivated and interested in the story and history of the event. We watch specials, read books and even visit traveling exhibits to feel close to the sunken ship.
For one lucky Titanic afficionado with local ties, however, seeing the wreck in person became a reality.
David Christensen grew up in Amherst and attended Milford Area Senior High School, and is a founding partner of Clearpath Entertainment in Manchester, which works with the Common Man Family as a consultant and entertainment booker for the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center in Plymouth.
Through his work, Christensen was able to dive the Titanic as the Vice President of Business Affairs and Media Relations for Titanic expert G. Michael Harris. With the passing of the Titanic's 100 year anniversary this past Sunday, April 15, Christensen offered to share his memories of the dive with the Record Enterprise.
"I had been hired in the summer of 2005 to handle the media relations for the Titanic expedition, so as part of my job, I was able to get a coveted seat and dive the ship," said Christensen.
The Harris Expedition to the Titanic was a three pronged expedition, where the dive was hoping to accomplish three things.
"One was, we were gathering the most recent HD (high definition) footage of the shipwreck," said Christensen. "So we were trying to get as much new footage with HD, which was a new format at the time, of the ship."
The second goal of the expedition was to set a Guinness World Record.
"The expedition leader, G. Michael Harris, has lead two expeditions to the wreck, and he was bringing his son, who was 13 years old, out to dive, and he set a Guinness World Record for the youngest person to ever dive the ship," said Christensen.
The third part of the mission was more serious, with the Harris Expedition trying to prove the Titanic Grounding Theory.
"The Grounding Theory is the thought process that not only did the Titanic hit the side of the iceberg, which ripped gashes into the side of the hull, but also rode up on top of the iceberg underneath the water, kind of like a car would ride over a speed bump and ripped a hole in the bottom of the Titanic," said Christensen. "So we were in search of pieces of the hull to prove the Titanic Grounding Theory was correct, and we located a couple of those."
Many people don't realize that the phrase "tip of the iceberg" holds true in its meaning, and played a large role in the sinking of the Titanic.
"The way an iceberg works is, when you see an iceberg at the top, you basically only see one third of the entire iceberg," explained Christensen. "The main part of icebergs is underneath the water, so it goes much, much wider than what you're actually seeing on the surface."
Shooting HD footage and proving the Grounding Theory meant that the expedition had the opportunity to view the entire ship. Though the vessel Christensen was in wasn't able to fit into some small spaces, they had a bit of extra help exploring.
"The submersibles are small, but still too big to go inside some parts of the ship," said Christensen. "They can go into certain parts of the ship because some spots have large gaping areas it can go into, but there are smaller tethered systems to go deeper into the ship, and we were able to see the entire ship."
Thought the ship is still pretty much intact, most of the artifacts and personal belongings have been salvaged on pervious diving missions to the Titanic.
"Most personal belongings have since been salvaged over the many years and missions, and what is left is in what they call the debris field," said Christensen. "There is a large debris field between where the bow of the ship landed and where the stern of the ship landed, and those are about 900 meters apart, so in between those two areas is a pretty big field."
Occasionally, Christensen said they came across a leather shoe or an article of clothing, but that many artifacts are part of museum exhibits being preserved. A significant concern, especially with the Titanic's 100th anniversary this past weekend, is the condition of the ship.
The Titanic isn't able to be lifted or preserved from its two and a half mile final resting place, and over the past 100 years, nature and the ocean have taken their course on the wreck.
"It's all relative," said Christensen. "It is in good condition in a sense that it is standing, and it can still be viewed, but it is deteriorating rapidly, and I think any scientist would tell you that the organisms and nature is taking its course. It is certainly rotting away the ship rapidly."
With the ship decaying at the bottom of the ocean, he explained, there will come a point where the Titanic will be no longer exist.
"There absolutely will come a point in time when the ship collapses upon itself, and is no longer there," said Christensen. "Whether that is 10 years, 20 years or 50 years remains to be seen, but certainly, nature is doing its business and deteriorating the ship a little more each year."
Though the Titanic looked vastly different than it did during its maiden voyage almost 100 years ago, Christensen said it was still a remarkable experience.
"When the vessel first lands on the ocean floor and those lights come up from outside the submarine, it was pretty jaw dropping and inspiring to look and see the bow of the Titanic towering over you 60 feet in the air, and looking firsthand at images that you've seen in movies and television and National Geographic for years and years and years," said Christensen. "All of a sudden, they are right there in front of you through a porthole; it's pretty amazing."
Christensen said he was emotionally prepared to see the Titanic for the first time, but was really surprised by how emotional being on the surface of the ocean would be during the Harris Expedition.
"What was even more humbling was being on the surface of the ocean on the research vessel, waiting to dive and imagining that we were under the exact same stars, we were on the same water, we were at the exact same location where the Titanic sank, and you can really get a sense of what it must have been like that particular night to be on the ocean and looking up at the stars and looking out over the ocean, and then all of a sudden hitting an iceberg, and knowing that is where those people ultimately met their fate," said Christensen. "It was really emotional."
Throughout the 10 day expedition, Christensen not only took away scientific information, but most importantly, took away the value and fragility of life from the expedition.
"There were 2,200 people that left on a week-long trip that was supposed to be joyous and carefree, and ultimately was taken in an amount of three hours, from the time they hit the iceberg to the time the boat hit the bottom of the ocean," said Christensen. "I felt like on the trip, you've really got to live each day to the fullest and love those around you because the most unsinkable ships may sink. Fate does what fate does, and so that was more the lesson for me than any specific scientific moment."