Local Explorers Club member recounts Titanic dive from 20+ years ago

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Don Morley went down 12,000 feet in the Russian-built Mir submersible

San Antonio – When the Titan submersible imploded on its way to the Titanic wreckage over a week ago, a worldwide group of elite adventure seekers watched with more interest than most, including m, who had been on his own Titanic exploration in the past.

Morley is a member of the elite Explorers Club, a group of avid researchers, scientists and adventurers who seek out new places and fact-finding around the world, often at great personal risk.

“I remember when we closed the hatch, I was like, ‘Well, yeah, here we go,’” he said, remembering the moment he took a similar deep sea dive and realized there was no turning back.

The electrical engineer and physics expert was invited to research deep water light aboard the Russian-built Mir submersible in 2000, about eight years after it was initially designed.

His adventure took him 12,000 feet down, and while it was a successful dive, he remembers a moment or two of concern when he saw water dripping inside the spherical vessel. There was a good reason for the initial panic.

“If it does start to leak or, you know, you get closing, what happens? You know, the pressure builds extremely quick, and the temperature skyrockets, you know, a thousand -- 10,000 degrees ... but you actually incinerate before the water washes your ashes away,” he explained.

It’s a horrible thought, but the water drops were the result of normal condensation inside the humid Mir. Sadly, that end is likely how the doomed Titan passengers met their death.

Morley says two of the passengers on the Titan were also members of the Explorers Club, and they likely recognized the risks of the carbon fiber tubular construction that imploded under pressure.

“If you put pressure inside something that’s carbon fiber, it’s really strong. You can’t pull it apart, but press on the outside, and it’s not as strong,” he explained, showing how a plastic straw will collapse from outside pressure.

In contrast, the Mir is built in the shape of a sphere, which, like an egg, can withstand more outside pressure without crushing or changing its shape.

Morley is in good company in the Explorers Club. He says former Mayor Phil Hardberger is among the local members who have flown and sailed on very risky journeys and even accompanied Morley on a climb of Mount Killamanjaro years ago.


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About the Author

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.

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