A recent expedition to the wreckage of the Titanic led to a shocking discovery.
"This ship didn't split apart because it sank," said John Chatterton, a co-host of the History Channel's "Deep Sea Detectives." "It sank because it split apart. And if you're the person onboard a ship, having it split apart is even scarier than having it slowly sink."
Chatterton and his co-host, Richie Kohler, set out on an expedition to research the legendary ocean liner last summer. They encountered two huge sections of the bottom -- 60 feet by 90 feet -- from the area where the ship had split in two. That led to a new theory about how the Titanic had sunk.
This weekend, the History Channel will air the documentary "The Titanic's Final Moments" based on the new information.
Using Russian deep-sea submersibles, the expedition was on its final day with no sign of its target: the ship's massive bottom structure, called the keel. So Kohler and Chatterton headed to a remote debris field. With the clock running out, they were shocked by what they found.
The usual explanation of the Titanic disaster says the ship, which was traveling between Southampton, England, and New York City, hit an iceberg on its right side, which opened a huge gash. As the front filled with water, the rear flew high in the air, as seen in James Cameron's movie "Titanic."
The ship had more than 2,220 people onboard -- 1,513 of whom died. About 700 made it off in life boats.
The expedition says the new evidence paints a different picture. The ship also tore open its bottom against the submerged section of the iceberg. As it filled with water from the side and below, it was literally ripped apart by the opposing forces.
"We saw that the bottom of the ship we recovered was from exactly where the ship ripped in half," Chatterton said.
"But the cuts on the bottom were very clean. I'm not an expert on metal -- I'm a diver. But the experts have told us those clean cuts are from a particular kind of stress, not from a break like you would see when a ship breaks in two."
The result, Kohler and Chatterton say, was that the ship sank even faster than the crew had expected. In similar accidents, ships had stayed afloat for several hours, allowing enough time for passengers to be rescued. But the Titanic and most of its passengers were lost in two hours. If Kohler and Chatterton are correct, the speed at which the Titanic sank had a huge effect on how many people survived.
"The breakup caused the plunge," said Roger Long, a naval architect. "The breakup determined when the ship sank and determined whether a lot of people lived or died."
"It could have literally meant life or death," Kohler said. "When the accident first happened, they thought they were just taking on water. The crew believed that could take hours to put the ship at risk and might not sink her at all. That was one reason they only used half the seats in the lifeboats. They really didn't think this was the end."