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LSU teacher who wrote Titanic discoverer's memoir discusses missing submersible

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As the search for the missing Titanic submersible off the Canadian coast enters the most critical hours, a man in Baton Rouge is paying very close attention.

LSU professional in residence Christopher Drew may not be an expert on the Titanic or submarines, but he has literally written the book about the actual expert.

"I did a book with a friend about submarine spying during the Cold War. Robert Ballard, the explorer who found the Titanic, actually covertly was helping the Navy with intelligence material. He never would talk to me for that book, but then when he wanted to write his memoirs, he asked the publisher to call me and see if I'd be interested in working with him," Drew said.

Deep sea explorer Robert Ballard and his team discovered the remnants of the Titanic in 1985. An explosive discovery that would continue to ensnare the public's curiosity to this day, and arguably fueling the desire for civilian excursions to the sea bed like Ocean Gate.

"He's been flooded by requests to talk about it. He's reluctant to give interviews about it right now while there's still the uncertainty whether the people could be alive. He doesn't want to seem to be speculating. He said he doesn't really know a lot about this submersible that this company built."

Ballard would return to the Titanic wreckage dozens of times, but, according to Drew, he never wanted the site of such unfathomable tragedy to become a tourist attraction. He also warned about the dangers of manned submarine travel.

"After spending 15 years going down in the Alvin many times to the seabed, and having several close calls, he thought this is just too dangerous, even for scientists, and he thought why don't we use robots? So he moved away from manned exploration. He invented a lot of robots."

Though it was almost 40 years ago, Drew says the technology behind the submersibles hasn't really changed much. Ballard has not been on a vessel like the Ocean Gate Titan, but he did describe what it was like inside the Alvin, which he took down to the Titanic many times.

"He said it's like crawling into a Swiss watch. In the ones he would go down in back then, you'd have to get inside and then curl your legs under you. There was no room to move."

Drew currently teaches at LSU's Manship School of Journalism. Bob Ballard is 81 and still very involved in sea exploration.


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