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It was April 14, 1912. At 11:40 p.m. the ill-fated Titanic, touted as unsinkable, struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York, killing 1,507 people. In 1985, a team of U.S. and French scientists led by Robert Ballard discovered its watery grave. Since then, fewer than 100 people have journeyed into the depths of the North Atlantic to visit the doomed ship. Michael Harris and his son Sebastian are two of them.
GUINNESS RECORD HOLDER
On August 5, 2005 Sebastian Harris became the youngest person ever to dive on the Titanic. Diving to a depth of 12,500+ feet put him in the Guinness Book of World Records. To the thirteen-year-old, that’s pretty cool. But Michael Harris, Sebastian’s dad, points out that it wasn’t really the Titanic or the depth that made it so special. For both Michael and Sebastian, the significance was that father and son went on this adventure together. Michael had been to the Titanic site seven times before. He’s dived in search of Amelia Earhart and he’s recovered incredible artifacts from ancient Chinese dynasties and still he says the thrill of sharing a dive with his son outweighs all his other accomplishments.
'THE SUBMERSIBLE IS LOOSE'
Michael and two other men were in the submersible, MIR2 as it surfaced from a dive in August 2000. The normal procedure meant the MIR2 would be literally picked up out the sea and returned to the deck of the Russian research vessel, Keldysh . But a storm swell lifted the Keldysh up on a huge wave. As the Keldysh rose, the sub with Michael aboard slid down the side of an opposing wave. The Keldysh crashed down on the sub and the inhabitants were tossed around the inside of the tiny cabin. The CO2 scrubbers in the submersible were damaged and malfunctioned and the air was no longer the right mix to sustain life. CO2 levels were rising fast. In the capsule just large enough to hold the three adult men, a fire was burning. The collision had broken the MIR2 free from the Keldysh. The Keldysh crew struggled to capture and recover the MIR2, but it looked like death was certain for the men inside. After several harrowing hours being tossed in the wounded submersible, rescue crews were finally able to pull the men on board the Keldysh and they were spared.
But facing what appeared to be certain death made Michael really think about his own life. When it looked like he would die in the submersible, he thought of his wife and his kids and the life he had led so far. He wondered what his 36 years of life were worth. He wondered what he had missed by being so focused on the Titanic’s dead and the past. Even though he began to apologize to God during that storm, and even though Michael had been an atheist, he would contemplate this whole new concept of the significance of life for the coming three weeks.
Not only was there a life-threatening storm on the sea that night, but over the next several days storms raged in Michael’s business and personal life. The company he headed was taken from him by his business partners. He says there was just upheaval everywhere. Suddenly this atheist found himself without a job or a plan or any thoughts as to how it could all work out. Then he received a call from one of the other two men trapped with him that night on the sea. The man said his mother wanted to talk to Michael. Michael says he has no recollection of that 3.5 hour conversation with this woman.
He says the lady told him later it was nothing more than a demonic tirade from him while she patiently talked to him about how the Lord was with him and wanted to save him from his sins. Michael can’t explain it, but at the end of the 3.5 hours with all the resistance gone out of him, the woman finally asked if he was ready to ask Jesus into his heart and Michael said, “Yes.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT LIFE
In the five short years since Michael made his decision, his wife and children have also been saved and all his thinking about the importance of life and the living has begun to make sense. He is now thrilled to be, first and foremost, a husband and father who keeps his priorities as God, family and then work. Michael says that what he learned when he almost died in 2000 was exactly the opposite of what he’d believed for years. For him, diving on the Titanic had originally been about the 1507 people who died. His exploration of the site had been about how life ended there and what the remains could tell us. He says he felt his job was to protect and preserve the memory of those who died.
Since his salvation, God has given Michael back his company including the Titanic exhibit he created. During the years since he lost his job, he says God miraculously provided for his family even when there was no work for him. Michael and Amy developed a habit of giving to the Lord which has resulted in continued blessings.
Michael has had theories about what really happened to the Titanic and how the sinking may actually have occurred. In his last dive with son Sebastian, he made several exciting discoveries that seem to confirm his theories.
“We found a new debris field about 900 meters south of the stern, which supports my long-standing belief that the Titanic began to break apart and sink further south than where she currently sits.” The discovery of personal artifacts in this area, some of which include Gladstone bags, women’s shoes and White Star Line china, contribute to the validity of his theories on the ship’s final moments. In addition to the newly discovered debris field, damaged pieces of the ship’s hull were also discovered for the first time. These findings support what Michael calls the “grounding theory.” This theory suggests the Titanic rode up onto the iceberg, damaging the plates on the underside of the ship, and causing water to enter through the damaged plates in the bottom of the hull.
Michael and Amy are members of the 700 Club’s Chairman’s Circle. They live in Belleair, Florida with their four children. Amy and their older two children are certified divers and Michael says each child will take their deep water dive with dad when the time is right.
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