In the latest episode of Lexicon, the podcast by Interesting Engineering (IE), we sit down with Curt Newport, a pioneering expert in remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with over 4000 hours of exploring the ocean depths around the world.

As Assistant Project Manager at Phoenix International, Inc., his notable missions include salvaging Air India Flight 182, the Space Shuttle Challenger, and TWA 800 and broadcasting live images of the RMS Titanic

Curt has also recently published his book, “Ready to Dive,” detailing his professional experiences, which is available to buy now!

Who is Curt Newport?

Curt Newport is a trailblazer in Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) development and operations, currently an Assistant Project Manager at Phoenix International, Inc. With over 4000 hours of piloting experience, Newport has operated Canadian, U.S., and British ROVs in diverse locations such as the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, the English Channel, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Ocean.

Renowned as one of the most experienced submersible pilots globally, Newport has participated in over 60 undersea missions, including high-profile recoveries like Air India Flight 182, the Space Shuttle Challenger, TWA 800, and the RMS Titanic. His expertise extends to numerous classified military operations.

Notably, Newport led the successful 1999 expedition to recover Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft from a depth of 16,043 feet, marking the deepest commercial salvage in history. Capitol College awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree for this achievement.

In 2001, Newport led a Discovery Channel-documented search for the USS Indianapolis and discovered the deepest wooden shipwreck ever, a 19th-century merchant ship, using Russian Mir submersibles. He also headed the 2003 National Geographic expedition to locate the ARA General Belgrano and participated in the recovery of the Australian Navy’s Blackhawk 221 helicopter and Remora submarine rescue system in 2007.

Beyond underwater operations, Newport designs and flies experimental rockets. His Proteus 6-sounding rocket reached over 85,000 feet and Mach 3.0 in 2008.

Newport has lectured at prestigious institutions like the Smithsonian and the Kansas Aviation Museum and has been featured on NBC, ABC, CNN, and the History Channel. He resides in Potomac, Maryland, where he continues to support international underwater operations.

Exploring the depths

Throughout our interview, Curt gave us some insights into his incredible career and, most notable moments, exploring the ocean depths. He constantly emphasized the amount of research and teamwork that goes into any mission before an ROV touches the water.

The primary example is his work on the discovery of the wreck of the USS Indianapolis.

“So I did about, uh, three months of pretty intensive research, uh, mostly at the national archives. And we [devised] a plan to look for the ship,” Curt explained. “That expedition started in 2000. Unfortunately, we didn’t know it at the time, but the Navy’s sinking location was off by over 30 miles,” he added.

But the story didn’t end there. Curt would return to find her sometime later.

In 2017, Curt was back on the case for the hunt for Indianapolis alongside Paul Allen and his team. After more dead ends and failed searches, all those wait years were finally over. The ship was found, and, as Curt explained, “she is in great condition.”

They also got a sort of two-for-one during the search by finding another sunken World War 2 ship.

“We did find another ship when I was out there. We found there was another target that we found that I concluded it was the ah SS Nanman Maru, which was a Japanese troop transport that the USS Flying Fish torpedoed,” Curt explained.

The hunt for the RMS Titanic

Most notably, Curt explained his work exploring the wreck of the Titanic and how he accidentally rammed the front of this famous ship.

“The MSNBC producer wanted a cool shot for the trailer so they could show it on TV. She says, well, I want you to take the vehicle up to the bow and fly up the bow, ah, the edge of the bow, and then pop out above where the anger dab is. So I put the vehicle up in the bow. And I did that several times. And every time, it was like, ah, you know you’re not close enough,” Curt said.

“I start coming up, and I’m going fast, and I’m centering it up, and everybody’s saying, oh man, that’s that’s pretty close, and I came up, and there’s like a towing shackle on the bow of the ship and I just I just brushed it with the lens, and you can see particles falling off,” he recollected.

Going beyond his work on some famous shipwrecks, Curt Curt stressed the importance of safety in underwater operations and the ethical considerations of disturbing underwater wrecks, particularly those considered war graves.

“[Regarding the Titanic,] it’s been properly surveyed. And if people want to visit and look at it, I’m OK with that. But when you talk about war graves, no, I think they should be physically left alone,” Curt said.

“Now, in the case of the Titanic, it’s not a war grave. And, you know, eventually, that ship will end up like a little brown stain on the bottom of the ocean. It’s going to rust away,” he added.

Is ocean exploring a career for you?

Regarding whether he’d recommend his former line of work, Curt had stern advice for anyone considering it.

“It’s very hard physically because you’re working on a ship, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m suffering for it these days. But you know, it can be very rewarding. But you have to understand, you know, a lot of bad things go with the territory,” Curt explained.

Buy Curt Newport’s new book, “Ready to Dive,” to read more about his incredible career and gain more behind-the-scenes insights into how the ocean’s depths are explored. The book is available in all good bookshops and can be purchased online.

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ABOUT THE EDITOR

Christopher McFadden Christopher graduated from Cardiff University in 2004 with a Masters Degree in Geology. Since then, he has worked exclusively within the Built Environment, Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Consultancy industries. He is a qualified and accredited Energy Consultant, Green Deal Assessor and Practitioner member of IEMA. Chris’s main interests range from Science and Engineering, Military and Ancient History to Politics and Philosophy.

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