A wrenching sound of snapping cables marked the moment when they lost their hold over the 15-tonne section of the Titanic's hull. Before an audience of 1,700 tourists who had paid to watch history being resurrected, the balloons holding her in place broke free and the sea reclaimed her.
Like those who have gone before, RMS - the company that owns exclusive salvage rights to the ship - found she was not ready to rise. Lord (Lew) Grade, who helped fund the 1979 film Raise the Titanic!, said: "As I said all those years ago, it would be cheaper to lower the Atlantic than raise the Titanic. It was a terrible tragedy, so many lives were lost, and God knows what else. People said there were diamonds and gold on board, but I never found any. They should let it rest in peace now. You can't do anything about the people that went down in her. It's futile."
When the Titanic set sail in April 1912 on her maiden voyage from Southampton, crowds gathered to marvel at the world's first luxury liner. But when the supposedly invincible steel hull hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, there were not enough lifeboats for a full evacuation, and 1,523 of the 2,200 passengers and crew were lost.
Among the three survivors from the disaster who travelled on the Royal Majesty cruise ship to watch the salvage operation was Edith Haisman, 99.
Ms Haisman was 16 when her parents booked the family on the Titanic, with hopes of opening a hotel in Seattle. Although she and her mother found a place on a lifeboat, her father perished. She recalled: "As he was walking up the gangplank, my father had a presentiment ... He turned white. He had some sort of idea that something was going to happen. I, like everybody else, didn't expect it. It was really a lovely ship. The people were so happy."
For decades, salvage operators were beguiled by the challenge of raising the Titanic, and the wreck was located in 1985. RMS has recovered 4,000 artefacts which hint at the splendour of a ship filled with chandeliers, fine porcelain and crystal.
George Tulloch, president of RMS, was determined that at least a portion of the ship should be brought back to the surface in the pounds 3.3m operation, to provide the centrepiece for an exhibition in New York with the possibility of a full-scale Titanic museum in the future.
He was close to tears yesterday as he described how the salvage attempt foundered. "One line snapped and then they went one at a time and the piece is gone. The Titanic is not easy to bring home. But the greatest tragedy in the world is to give up. And we haven't given up. We'll get it next year."
The spot where the section of the hull went back under is marked by a beacon that will last two years, enabling the salvors to return for a further attempt.
Godfrey Hodgson, page 15Reuse content