TODAY   |  August 30, 2010

High-tech sub reveals 3-D images of Titanic

Researchers are getting a look at the wreckage of the Titanic like never before with the help of a high-tech submarine outfitted with 3-D cameras. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports from the Jean Charcot research vessel, stationed in the North Atlantic.

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ANN CURRY, co-host: It's been almost a century since the world's most famous ship wrecked, the Titanic , but now researchers are getting a look at the wreckage like never before. NBC 's Kerry Sanders reports now from the North Atlantic , where researchers had to go on the run to stay away from Hurricane Danielle . Here's his report.

KERRY SANDERS reporting: Two miles down, a view of Titanic 's wreckage like none other; 3D HD images of the ship's bow, railings, the ship's steering wheel called a telemotor. Into Captain E.J. Smith 's stateroom, the bathtub's porcelain mostly preserved at this frigid depth. Along the starboard side, which hit the iceberg late on April 14th , 1912 , and sank less than three hours later on the 15th, port holes, some still with glass reflecting the camera's lights. And those squares are windows to the staterooms on B deck, where the millionaires traveled. At the surface on board the research vessels, expedition members gathered in a darkened control room.

Unidentified Man #1: Also, just be aware there's a......will be coming up.

SANDERS: A hushed awe as they watched the monitors revealing an inch-by-inch movement of the 3D cameras.

Unidentified Man #2: Let's see what else we can see in here.

SANDERS: The equipment launched Friday night affixed to a remotely operated vehicle.

Unidentified Man #3: Fly towards the ship....

SANDERS: Flying in these deep waters is a delicate dance. With less than a one-mile-per-hour current down here, for a moment, the minivan-sized ROV tangled its line and only once accidentally bumped the ship. One question

that's long perplexed the experts: Why did the Titanic go down? It was said to be unsinkable. It had 16 water-tight chambers, yet the ship of ships filled with sea water and sank.

Mr. JIM DELGADO (Institute of Nautical Archaeology): The water-tight compartments only went so high and then when she started to flood and a number of them were filled, the water would top over one and the other and bring it down. It was as if you filled an ice tray full of water and each cube as it fills gradually pulls it down until inevitably the entire tray would sink.

SANDERS: One stunning technical achievement, these torpedo-shaped vehicles were sent down about 40 meters from the sea floor , sonar readings created the first-ever jaw-dropping photo-quality map of the wreck site. It's long been believed the Titanic sank in pieces across an area only six square miles , but now the maps reveal wreckage strewn across 15 square miles .

Mr. ANDY SHERRILL (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution): You can see details such as these round things here are actual boilers that are sticking up off the sea floor , but that is the kind of detail that we can pick out now.

SANDERS: And now with that map, the scientists know where to focus their cameras.

Mr. DAVID GALLO (Titanic Expedition Leader): We have identified places where we thought there was maybe nothing and there's stuff there. We need to get out and find out what that is.

SANDERS: But, of course, for the moment, they're going to have to have some safe harbor, we're arriving right now to St. John's Newfoundland , being chased away by the storms. When they return, they're going to look in those areas that have never been looked at before, and who knows what they might find, maybe a necklace, maybe the heart of the ocean . But, of course, the historians say that is just a Hollywood creation. Ann , it was kind of strange, this morning we were shrouded in fog, we were flat out moving as fast as we could, just the way the Titanic was 98 years ago. Fortunately, no icebergs out here and we have a radar. So we'll be in here in port in about an hour or so.

CURRY: Well, Kerry , great job. It looks like so fun. Kerry Sanders live now this morning. Really terrific, don't you think?

MATT LAUER, co-host: Yeah.

CURRY: I mean, those images are just fascinating, don't you think, guys?

LAUER: And you were saying you had live images on the weekend.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: Yeah, we had live images on the weekend of the -- of the actual Titanic . And, you know, you've seen the pictures before, but to see it in this kind of detail is amazing.