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The Florida filmmaker who planned to find the Titanic

The Titanic lay in an unknown place at the bottom of the Atlantic, and in 1980 a documentarian travelled to Halifax in search of it.

Mike Harris had made films about searches for Noah's Ark and lost treasure in Mexico

Florida filmmaker Mike Harris comes to Halifax to plan a documentary about the final resting place of the ship that sank in the North Atlantic in 1912. 2:05

The Titanic lay in an unknown place at the bottom of the Atlantic, and in 1980 an American documentary producer set out in search of it.

Mike Harris, a Florida-based producer with a company called International Expeditions, had already produced films about the search for Noah's Ark and the legendary loot hidden by Mexican rebel Pancho Villa.

But the Titanic, a luxury liner that had sunk in the North Atlantic 68 years earlier, was no legend.

"Harris came to Halifax, burial place of 154 of the victims, to work on his film and attempt to piece together some of the events which followed the Titanic's sinking," said CBC reporter Stan Johnson in a report dated May 15, 1980.

'A sacred place'

Filmmaker Mike Harris said his plan didn't call for the Titanic to be raised from the depths, but some artifacts would be salvaged from it. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

Johnson said Harris had expressed an intention to take the first pictures of the ship since its sinking in April 1912.

He was planning to find the wreck "using the latest scientific equipment available," explained Johnson as Harris and a camera operator were seen filming in a Halifax cemetery. 

"We are intending to be very respectful of the victims," said Harris, who was interviewed while sitting on a rock next to the water. "We have interviewed some of the survivors. Some consider it a sacred place, a tomb and so forth."

He said it was unlikely anyone could raise the wreck — an exploit that had been explored in Clive Cussler's 1976 novel Raise the Titanic! and then-forthcoming movie of the same name.

"It's completely ridiculous that someone, like ourselves, goes to the trouble and expense to locate the Titanic, document what shape it's in," Harris said. "Only then could anybody ... come up with an idea if it's even feasible to raise the Titanic."

Harris and a crew of 37 were planning to leave Florida that July and expected to find the ship within a 900-square-mile area of the Atlantic where it was likely to be.

Weather delay

Beset by high waves, filmmaker Mike Harris and his crew return to Boston after a largely fruitless effort to find the wreck. 1:34

Harris's plan had been to find the wreck and photograph one season, then return the next year to salvage what they could.

But after 45 days on the water, as reported by Johnson in a follow-up in August that year, the search was called off.

Jack Grimm, the "Texas oilman" who had sunk his money into the project, was undaunted.

Texas oilman Jack Grimm spent $3 million looking for the Titanic, according to Maclean's magazine. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

"I think, among the targets that we have, that there is a 90 per cent chance that we have found it," he told the reporter.

The search had yielded sonar images that required further study. But any further time on the ocean would have to wait until the next year. 

"It was lousy," said Harris, describing the weather in the search area. "Continuously fifty-knot winds, 12-, 15-foot seas ... it was very dangerous."

The Titanic was eventually found, but not by Grimm or Harris. The crew of a U.S. navy research ship, financed jointly by the National Geographic Society and the French government, announced the discovery in September 1985.

The British liner Titanic sails out of Southampton, England, at the start of its doomed voyage on April 10, 1912. (Canadian Press/AP)