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Titanic may have sunk in three parts

In a historically accurate world, Kate Winslet might not have had time to break Leonardo DiCaprio out of the Titanic jail so they could escape the sinking ship.

New evidence presented yesterday at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution suggests the luxury ocean liner may have broken into three pieces -- not two -- when it sank in 1912, meaning it would have gone down much, much faster after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

''It was likely much more complex and much more terrifying and faster than we previously thought," said Lynn Gardner, a spokeswoman for The History Channel, whose divers discovered extra pieces of the famous ship's hull in August. ''There wasn't any time."

Historians and investigators are mulling over the new finding in Woods Hole today. Yesterday, Titanic historian Parks Stephenson told conference-goers that the breakup and sinking have never been accurately depicted.

John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, who dive for the History Channel show ''Deep Sea Detectives," discovered the extra hull pieces on a summer diving expedition, Gardner said.

Swimming in an area away from the main debris field, the divers found two hull pieces, each roughly 40 feet by 90 feet, lying about a third of a mile from the rest of the wreck, the explorers said at the conference. They now believe the ship's bottom came off intact -- creating a third large piece -- and later broke in two.

The divers took photos of the pieces ''from every angle," Gardner said. ''They knew these were pieces from the hull and they knew it's a very significant physical finding that probably changes the final moments of the Titanic."

Scientists at the conference and at the History Channel will evaluate the photos and reports, and their commentary is likely to be used in a documentary set to air on Feb. 26, Gardner said.

''I'm sure this is something that will be talked about for years," she said. ''It's a wild thing because it's still a complete mystery. I think that's why people are fascinated -- the whole nature of the unsinkable ship . . . . It's tantalizing."

Undersea explorer Robert Ballard, who first located the Titanic's wreckage in 1985 at a depth of about 2 miles southeast of Newfoundland, declared that the ship broke into two pieces. It was also portrayed that way in the blockbuster 1997 movie about the disaster that featured Winslet and DiCaprio playing doomed lovers.

Ballard was unimpressed by the History Channel's find. ''They found a fragment, big deal," he told the Associated Press. ''Am I surprised? No. When you go down there, there's stuff all over the place. It hit an iceberg and it sank. Get over it."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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