Derbyshire man who won a dive to Titanic wreck reflects on Titan disaster: "The dangers were drilled into us.”
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In 2001, Peter Bailey, 59, was reading a national newspaper when he spotted a competition to win a voyage to the wreck of the Titanic and decided to try his luck.
He said: “Until the events of last week, I’d not thought much about it for a long time, then reporters started knocking on my door and it brought it all back. I was trying to guide people through the situation on Facebook too, knowing what I know.”
He added: “If I remember rightly, there was a diving firm in Coventry giving away this trip for a bit of publicity. It was one of those things you never think you’ll win. I rang the number and answered the question, and the next day someone phoned me back to say I was going. I thought it was a joke at first.
“After the initial shock, I started feeling very nervous about going 2.5 miles under the ocean. I had a wife and two young children at home, so I had to do a lot of thinking, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I decided, ‘Let’s get this done.’”
At the time, Peter was working at Forge Solutions Aerospace Parts Manufacturing in Darley Dale – he recently retired after 33 years at the furnaces – so had some understanding of the engineering involved in the trip.
He said: “I know what can happen to a plane engine if there’s the slightest little crack anywhere, and we all still go flying at 33,000 feet. There’s an element of risk to everything.
“To reach the Titanic site, we sailed out 36 hours from St John’s in Newfoundland. We had these lectures going over the safety aspects again and again, all the things that could potentially go wrong. The dangers were drilled into us.”
He added: “It was the same ship you see in the movie Titanic, and the expedition leader was in the film too. Anyway, these guys had done the dive many times.
“A lot of the team were Russians and they used the money they raised from these trips to fund research on the ocean floor. They couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong. You put your trust in them.”
It took 2.5 hours for Peter’s submersible to descend through the pitch black waters to the Titanic, with only the pilot and one other passenger for company in a space he says was “smaller than the inside of a Mini, very claustrophobic.”
He added: “It was a spherical craft, not like the cigar-shaped Titan. I’m not a marine engineer, and there will be an investigation into what happened, but I do know that the shapes might react differently under pressure.”
There were mixed emotions on the seabed, as Peter gazed on the wreck that claimed around 1,500 lives when it sank in 1912.
He said: “I knew the story, but the Titanic had never been an obsession or anything. It was only when I won the prize I’d started seriously reading into it.
“We spent four hours down there, and I remember vividly when we landed by the ship’s bow. I couldn’t see anything at first it was so murky, then they switched the lights on and suddenly it was there towering over us. It was a strange feeling, I almost had to pinch myself that I was looking at the most famous shipwreck in the world. It was absolutely amazing.”
He added: “We went looking into Captain Smith’s cabin, the grand staircase, and the huge, mangled propellers. I’d never seen so many toilets lying around in all my life, a lot of shoes, and all these memorial plaques and markers from previous expeditions.
“All the portholes still had glass in, reflecting back at us, and it was only as we went along that I got a sense of all the people who’d died behind those windows. It’s like a graveyard, and you have to remember that.”
When a friend texted Peter with the breaking news of Titan’s disappearance, he instantly feared the worst while hoping for the best.
He said: “The most probable explanation was also the most lethal one – an implosion – and those fears came true. I think people with a lot more expertise than me also feared the worst.
“My reasoning was the sudden disappearance and lack of communication. There were other possible scenarios, but they didn’t seem as logical with what was being said. At that depth there’s a hell of a lot of pressure and the tiniest pinprick fault can cause catastrophe.”
He added: “The only saving grace for those on board is that is they wouldn’t know anything about it. Everything would have happened quicker than the blink of an eye.”
The Titan incident has ignited debates over the deep sea safety rules and their relationship to the extreme tourism adventures of the rich, and Peter has his own thoughts.
He said: “It does put my experience in a new perspective, to have done this and lived to tell the tale. I can still feel the pride and relief when I got back on to the ship and spoke to my wife on the phone, but personally I think we ought to leave the Titanic alone now.
“Maybe others will still want to do it. I can’t see it happening for a bit after this. Whatever happens, I think there should be new international safety standards. This submersible wouldn’t have been allowed off the American coast, but it seems there was a loophole in international waters. Everyone involved needs to get together and agree new regulations before anything like this happens again.”