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Triumph and Tragedy


By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US certainly boosted India’s image. We will also, reportedly, get the know-how from General Electric to build single crystal jet engines for our aircraft which will increase their efficiency enormously. Jet engines work by sucking in air, heating it so that it expands and wants to escape. But metal parts melt at high temperatures, crystal parts do not. More heat gives more thrust, more efficiency, to the jet engine. But that was not all. From General Atomics, the PM is said to have obtained the know-how to make Drones.  These robotic flying machines range from palm sized wasps to bomber-sized unmanned flying machines which can cruise at heights above missile reach and stay in the high skies for thirty hours. They could change the shape of air warfare in unimaginable ways. For one thing, aircraft carriers could give way to hive ships carrying hundreds of drones guided by ship-based controllers. Then there is the possibility of underwater sub-surface drones controlled by submariners.

The possibilities that the Prime Minister has opened for our country are limited only by our imagination. These then are the expanding horizons beckoning us.

Humans are genetically programmed to answer challenges. As we have said in this column and in our other writings, one in five Homo sapiens has a gene coded as DRD4-7R. This gene sends a shot of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, into our system when we discover something new. Leaders and discoverers have it. This gene probably compelled both of us to board Air Nepal’s Everest Flight from Kathmandu to view the world’s highest mountain excitingly close. The very presence of hard-to-reach-places are challenges in themselves to all those with the Restless Gene. The sea holds many more secrets than Everest does. This is what prompted the formation of the company Ocean Gate. Its prime objective was to take tourists deep into the Atlantic Ocean to see the wreck of the Titanic.

Those who have viewed that iconic film of the first, and last, voyage of this great steam ship will recall that it sank because of the greed of its owners. To lighten its weight, and so increase its speed, they reduced the number of lifeboats it carried. Similarly they fired all its boilers to break a speed record. And since those were the days before radar, the only way the Titanic’s crew could be aware of what lay ahead was through the eyes of its sailors. And human eyes could not penetrate darkness or mist. So, when an iceberg calved, or broke off a glacier in Newfoundland, the speeding Titanic’s watch could not see it in time. And the ship was speeding too fast to avoid collision with that floating mountain of ice. Moreover, only 10% of the glacier is visible above the surface of the sea. The greater part of this icy monster struck the boiler room. Over 1500 people lost their lives and the wreck sunk deeper and deeper into the sea, breaking into two and scattering debris two miles down.

Mussoorie is one mile vertically above the level of Mumbai. The broken halves of the Titanic lie twice that amount deep on the bottom of the ocean. The Ocean Gate company was formed to take tourists to this great depth only to see the two broken pieces of the Titanic. The company charged $250,000 per person for the trip. They named their wreck seeing vessel The Titan.

The Titan could not move on its own. It had to be lowered and raised and shifted by cables from the mother ship. It was not a submarine but a Submersible.  With five people on board, the hatch was screwed down and the submersible lowered for the two mile plunge into the cold dark, crushing depths of the sea. Ninety minutes into its 120 minute descent, the Titan lost contact with the Ocean Gate. A massive search-and-rescue operation was launched. This time the sea won. Somewhere on its descent, the sea found a weak spot in the Titan. In a thousandth of a second, the Titan and its occupants were crushed.

But the Titanic’s wreck still lies in those terrifying depths and more explorers will risk their lives, only because, like Everest, “It is there”.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command.
Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel
Agents Association of India.)