What happened to the missing passengers of Titanic? Experts reveal to MailOnline where they could be
More than 1,500 people – around 70 percent of the souls onboard – tragically perished after the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic in April 1912.
Sadly, for hundreds, if not thousands of bereaved family members, the bodies of around 1,160 souls were never found.
So, what happened to them?
As new photos of the shipwreck show shoes and champagne bottles of those on board, MailOnline spoke to experts for their take on the missing passengers.
James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist and historian who has dived to the wreck himself, said there could be ‘some semblance of human remains’ still inside what remains of the luxury liner.
‘Scientists think that could be a possibility, but this is a science we don’t know much about, particularly in the deep ocean,’ Delgado told MailOnline.
New digital scans released this week reveal the Titanic in greater detail than ever since 1912 Pictured is the ship’s bow, much of which is buried under mud due to the force of impact when it hit the ocean floor in the early hours of April 15, 1912
Photograph of Titanic leaving Southampton at the start of her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. Five days after this photo was taken the ship was on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean
Of the 2,224 people on board Titanic, an estimated 1,517 lost their lives when the ship sank in the early hours of April 15, less than three hours after hitting the iceberg.
Around 340 bodies with lifejackets still on them were recovered from the ocean’s surface, but this means 1,160 bodies were unaccounted for and never seen again.
Among them were American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, Liverpool-born ship steward Thomas Peter O’Connor and the ship’s captain, Edward Smith.
Speaking to MailOnline from Washington DC, Delgado pointed out that ‘even teeth dissolve’ after sustained periods on the ocean floor, which is mostly populated by microbial life such as bacteria.
He has personally made two expeditions down to the Titanic’s remains, in 2000 and in 2010, and called it a ‘very sobering and powerful place’.
‘What you see which is very compelling is pairs of shoes splayed, suggesting this is where they ultimately came to rest,’ said Delgado, who is senior vice president of archeology firm SEARCH, Inc.
‘It’s a tangible reminder of the loss of these lives.’
A haunting photo of a boot lying next to what’s thought to be a coat, surrounded by crockery, was released in 2004, and is just one example of the personal property in the debris that no longer has an owner.
Delgado said such physical items should be treated with respect as if they themselves are the human remains.
A haunting photo of a boot lying next to what’s thought to be a coat, surrounded by crockery, was released in 2004
The grandest ship: RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. She would never return from this maiden voyage. Her remains now lie on the seafloor about 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada
Among the people on Titanic whose bodies were never found are American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim (pictured).
In the 111 years that have followed the disaster, expeditions to the Titanic wreck have not found any human remains, according to RMS Titanic Inc, the company that owns rights to the wreck.
Why do bodies decompose?
In living organisms, decomposition is the breaking down of dead, organic matter into smaller constituent parts.
It is caused by the breaking down of tissues by the body’s own internal chemicals and enzymes, and the breakdown of tissues by bacteria.
Although decomposition slows down in water compared with in air, it does not stop.
James Cameron, who directed the 1997 blockbuster film, has made more than 30 dives to the remains, logging more hours on the ship than Captain Smith himself.
He previously told the New York Times: ‘We’ve seen clothing, we’ve seen shoes, we’ve seen pairs of shoes, which would strongly suggest there was a body there at one point, but we’ve never seen any human remains.
Titanic’s wreck lies at a depth of around 13,000 feet on the bottom of the Atlantic – a very cold and dark environment consisting of salty water.
Bodies would have decomposed or been eaten away by the marine life at this depth, including fish and crustaceans such as shrimp, as well as bacteria.
The creatures adapted to this unique underwater ecosystem would have consumed human skin and tissue – but what about bone?
Professor John Cassella, a forensic scientist at Atlantic Technological University Sligo in Ireland, said bone degrades quickly in water in a salty environment, such as the Atlantic.
‘Bone is made from a mineral called hydroxyapatite, made-up of calcium and phosphate primarily but lots of other smaller molecules,’ he told MailOnline.
Newspaper headlines proclaimed a ‘great loss of life’ when the famous Titanic sank on its maiden voyage over a century ago
Haunting images show a pair of shoes that lie at the bottom of the North Atlantic on the wreck of the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912
‘The water will assist in the dissolution or the dissolving of this bone mineral and of course the fragile organic proteins that help glue the bone together.’
Professor Cassella said there could be human bones that still remain in the wreck even after 100 years, but this depends on salt water levels, the pH of the water and effects of microorganisms.
‘There may well be many bones left but they are so widely dispersed in and around the wreck and covered in silt that it would be very hard to identify them.’
Professor Dame Sue Black, a forensic anthropologist and President of St John’s College at Oxford University, said the bones ‘don’t like to be underwater’.
‘In reality it is the damage done by predation that causes the destruction,’ she told MailOnline. ‘Marine life sees bones as a calcium reservoir to be tapped.’
It’s worth remembering that the Titanic’s wreck wasn’t found until September 1985, over 73 years after the sinking – more than enough time for bodies not consumed by sea life to decompose.
Even in a cold and low oxygen environment such as the bottom of the ocean, the decomposition of the bodies would have been slowed down but not stopped, according to Professor Cassella.
Whether they’re there or not, finding human remains at the Titanic site will likely require underwater research vessels to disturb parts of the wreck – something they are prohibited from doing.
Images show stalactites of rust on the ship’s bow, the serial number on a propeller, and a hole over where the grand staircase once stood
Titanic’s grand staircase was possibly the most famous part of the first-class section of the RMS Titanic. Pictured is the hole over where the staircase was located
Titanic had been sailing smoothly for the majority of the journey’s intended distance when disaster struck. The wreck of Titanic now lies 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada
The wreck is already in a fragile state, as bacteria are eating iron in the ship’s hull and will eventually consume the entire ship.
What remains of the ship is deteriorating so rapidly underwater that it could disappear completely within the next 40 years.
At this point after the ship itself is gone, some personal possessions may still remain, which Delgado said could potentially be brought to land – but only if they’re put in a museum rather than sold and traded for personal gain.
‘One doesn’t go to a graveyard to put things up for auction,’ Delgado told MailOnline.
Unfortunately, the story of the 340 bodies that were recovered from the water back in 1912 is just as devastating.
In the days following the disaster, a ship called the Mackay Bennett was sent out to the Atlantic to recover the bodies of people wearing life jackets, and so were left bobbing on the ocean’s surface.
In all, Mackay Bennett recovered 306 bodies, of which 190 were brought into port and transferred to the ice rink of the Mayflower Curling Club in Halifax, many unidentified, while the other 116 were buried at sea.
Other boats continued to find corpses; on May 13, almost a month after the disaster, crew on the RMS Oceanic found the Collapsible A lifeboat with three bodies aboard.
Shane Leslie, who was onboard the Oceanic, recalled: ‘The three bodies were stuffed into duffel bags with a steel bar at the bottom each.
‘Then, one after another, they were wrapped in the Union Jack, a sermon was read, and thrown into the sea.’
Titanic mystery is SOLVED: Strange ‘blip’ detected in 1996 near the shipwreck was caused by an ‘abyssal ecosystem’ teeming with sponges, corals and fish, study reveals
When divers received a mysterious ‘sonar blip’ during a dive to the remains of the Titanic in 1996, they were puzzled.
At the time, they thought the sonar transmission in the North Atlantic Ocean was caused by a second shipwreck, a geological feature or something else entirely.
Finally, 24 years later, researchers found that the blip was caused by a rich underwater ecosystem teeming with sponges, corals, squat lobsters and fish.
OceanGate Expeditions said the sonar transmission in 1996 was ‘eerily similar’ to that of the Titanic, but instead of a shipwreck, it stemmed from the ecosystem on a previously unknown basalt formation.