The discovery of two large pieces of the Titanic's hull on the ocean floor indicates that the fabled luxury liner sank faster than previously thought, researchers said Monday.
The hull pieces were a crucial part of the ship's structure and make up a bottom section of the vessel that was missing when the wreck was first located in 1985, the researchers said.
After the bottom section of the hull broke free, the bow and stern split, said Roger Long, a naval architect who analyzed the find. The stern, which was still buoyant and filled with survivors, likely plunged toward the ocean floor about five minutes later.
"It would have been immediately terrifying," he said.
Previous researchers believed the ship broke in just two major pieces, the bow and stern, which was how the sinking was depicted in the 1997 film version of the catastrophe. David Brown, a Titanic historian, estimated before the latest find that the stern took 20 minutes to slide into the water.
"It turns out the Titanic was more merciful. It was over more quickly," Brown said.
The newly found hull sections, located about a third of a mile from the stern of the wreck, were examined during an expedition in August sponsored by The History Channel. On Monday, Titanic experts met at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to discuss their analysis of the find for a documentary to be aired on the cable channel on Feb. 26.
The sections, both about 40 feet by 90 feet, were once a single section and were found in good condition, with red bottom paint still visible. The missing sections had been believed to have fragmented into hundreds of small pieces.
"The breakup and sinking of the Titanic has never been accurately depicted," said Parks Stephenson, a Titanic historian who took part in Monday's conference.
The 46,000-ton ocean liner was billed as "practically unsinkable" by the publicity magazines of the period. But it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage just before midnight on April 14, 1912, and sank the following day. About 1,500 people died.
Explorer Robert Ballard found the bulk of the wreck in 1985, at a depth of 13,000 feet and about 380 miles southeast of Newfoundland. Ballard was not impressed with the expedition's find.
"They found a fragment — big deal," he said. "Am I surprised? No. When you go down there, there's stuff all over the place. It hit an iceberg and it sank. Get over it."