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Robot Peers Through Titanic’s Portholes

July 17, 1986 GMT

WOODS HOLE, Mass. (AP) _ An underwater robot peered through portholes of the sunken Titanic on Wednesday but got tangled in its own line and spent most of the day on the outside of the 74-year-old wreck.

The pictures taken by the robot, Jason Jr., showed that the ship’s brass mast light is still intact, but that letters spelling out ″Titanic″ have apparently faded.

″The imaging was breathtaking,″ said expedition leader Robert Ballard, who also headed the French-American team that discovered the ″unsinkable″ steamship last September.

After the lawnmower-sized robot found the lantern, it scanned further up the fallen mast and filmed the crow’s nest.

″We saw where the two sailors were standing when they sighted the iceberg,″ Ballard, who with two other colleagues guided the robot from a nearby submarine, told reporters in a ship-to-shore news conference.

He said there was ″a tense moment″ when the robot, remotely controlled by Ballard and two colleagues inside the submarine, got its control line hung up on some jagged metal near the wheelhouse, where the explorers have found a still-shiny captain’s wheel. But the scientists managed to free Jason by maneuvering it back and forth.

Ballard said he tried to take the robot into the portholes leading to the promenade deck of the luxury liner but ″he wouldn’t fit. He has to go on a diet.″

As a result, the robot did not get into the first-class staterooms inside the Titanic, which lies 400 miles off the coast.

With the robot peering through the ship’s numerous portholes, many with glass still intact, Ballard said he saw a small, ornate stove. But mostly the pictures showed rust deposits hanging from the ceilings, he said.

The Titanic, the largest passenger liner ever built, went down April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage from England to the United States, killing 1,513 people. There were 704 survivors, mostly women and children.

On Tuesday, the men viewed row after row of chandeliers as the Jason Jr., connected to the submarine by a 250-foot-long cable, floated down the Titanic’s grand staircase to get the first glimpse of the interior since the ship sank.

″It was a very eerie thing because you were entering a ship that hadn’t been entered since it sank,″ he said.

″Going down the staircase, sitting on the deck of the ship at 12,500 feet and going inside four decks and going into a room and looking at a chandelier is amazing.″

Ballard said some parts of the ship, like the porthole windows, seemed undamaged by the Titanic’s descent to the sea floor. He said brass pieces, including the ship’s wheel, looked polished and ready for service.

Other parts, like most of the wooden deck and cabin interiors, appeared eaten away by marine organisms.

Ballard said the researchers have not yet used the expensive equipment to look for furniture.

″The ship went (down) vertically, so the furniture probably went over to the corners of the room. We didn’t creep over there yet. We’re building our nerve up,″ he said.

″I would have loved to have this ship be in more mint condition, but I think it’s fascinating, it’s a very eerie thing,″ Ballard said.

Ballard and a crew of 55 scientists and sailors arrived at the site 450 miles southwest of Newfoundland a week ago. Wednesday was the fourth in 12 scheduled days of diving on the $220,000, Navy-funded expedition aimed at taking thousands of pictures - but no souvenirs.

Ballard has proposed that Congress declare the site an underwater memorial.

The researchers said they will place two bronze plaques on the ship’s hold asking that the wreck and its contents remain a memorial to deep-water exploration.