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People watched in open-mouthed fascination 30 years ago today as new close-up video tapes were released showing the wreck of the RMS Titanic lying 13,000 feet down on the ocean floor.

The location of the famous luxury liner, which sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912, had been discovered the previous year by marine geologist Robert Ballard and his team. Their video tapes, filmed from deep sea submersibles, were stunning in their clarity and detail, showing clearly identifiable features of the ship once deemed "unsinkable".

Eerily compelling, the films included a view of one of the liners grand staircases, with a large coral-encrusted chandelier still suspended above it, swinging majestically in the ocean current. Other views showed passenger cabins, plates still stacked in their racks, bathtubs, huge propellers and anchors and desperately sad images of leather shoes and other personal effects scattered in a long debris trail. 

When launched the RMS Titanic was the largest ocean liner and the biggest movable object ever built. It carried more than 2,200 people on its maiden voyage from England to New York, with around 1,500 perishing in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

Seventy-three years later its wreck was found 350 miles southwest of Newfoundland by Dr Ballard and his team using new undersea exploration technology, some of it supplied by the US Navy. Initially the site of the wreck was kept a closely guarded secret.

The following year Ballard returned with a manned submersible, "Alvin", which would allow him and other team members to descend almost two-and-a-half miles to the ocean floor to photograph the exterior of the wreck. A smaller robotic submarine was used to explore the interior of the wreck. The images they brought back stunned the world and ignited fresh interest in the Titanic and its fate.

It's peak was James Cameron's epic 1997 movie "Titanic". Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it won 11 Oscars and became the highest grossing film of all time, holding that title until 2009.

Since 1985 several more visits have been made to the wreck site, both by Ballard and other explorers. While Ballard's team took the decision early on to leave the wreck and its debris undisturbed, other expeditions have recovered various artefacts from the wreck, ranging from parts of the ship itself to items of clothing, watches, crockery and jewellery. Some are in museums while others were auctioned to private collectors, commanding high prices.

No human remains have ever been found on or near the wreck, as even bones would be dissolved by the ocean within a few years at such a great depth. After more than a century on the ocean floor the wreck is said to be now deteriorating quickly and future expeditions are increasingly unlikely.

To see some of the haunting video images from the wreck, click here.

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