|I became the first woman to dive down to the Titanic on
August 9, 1987.
It was a morning I'll never forget, because the dive was scheduled for six AM, and five hours later I was still waiting. Nautile, the bright yellow submersible that was to take me 12,500 feet below the sea, was delayed due to what submersible captain Nargeolet called "a minor malfunction." That sounded pretty frightening, especially when I was told, "If anything happens down
there, you can't be rescued."
I was warned aboaut possible sparks in the electrical equipment, the danger of the umbilical cord on our remote vehicle getting caught in the Titanic wreckage, and the threat of even a pin leak in the titanium hull. That pin leak would be enough to cause the Nautile to explode.
But even with all these life-and-death warnings, I was ready to go. I had been dreaming of this moment all my life. I had learned, also, never to run away from things that scared me the most.
Five years before I had been on a cruise ship in Alaska that crashed into rocks during a storm. The ship started sinking and everyone on board became hysterical with panic. Somehow I found the courage to help other passengers into lifeboats. Two people died, but I survived the disaster. The memory of it sometimes gave me nightmares afterward, but it also showed me what it felt like to be on a ship that was going down.
Years before that I had nearly died in a skydiving accident, when my chute failed to open until the last second. Once, while producing a National Geographic special, I got trapped in a cage with a shark and nearly wound up as the creature's main meal for the day.
None of these catastrophes stopped me from my pursuit of adventure, because I had been trapped in an abusive marriage while still a teenager, and vowed that if I ever escaped my husband's violence, I'd face every fear head on. If something frightened me, I made sure I tried it. I learned karate, became a reserve sheriff, a scuba diver and a skydiver.
So when my chance came to dive to the Titanic I was mentally and physically prepared. I had worked for months to get into shape, because life on an expedition is rugged. The hours are long, the labor is hard, and there's always the threat of high seas and hurricanes. One hurricane nearly sank us all. Mammoth waves the size of office buildings flung themselves at the sky.
The hammering winds were brutal, the waves mountainous and the gale literally knocked me over.
I survived that murderous assault by Mother Nature and was finally on my way to the Titanic. The descent was made in total darkness, in a claustrophobically small submersible.
My husband Joel Hirschhorn had written a song for me to listen to while drifting downward. Joel is a two-time Academy Award winner, and the composer of the Oscar-winning songs, "The Morning After" (From "The Poseidon Adventure") and "We May Never Love Like This Again" (From "The Towering Inferno."). Disaster songs! And now I was listening to his new one, on my way to the greatest disaster of them all -- the Titanic!