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A briefcase rescued from the wreckage of the Titanic suggests a frenzied looter was at work in the last terrifying moments of the sinking liner, British museum workers say.

Stephen Deuchar of the National Maritime Museum, who is helping to put together an exhibition of items taken from the wreckage at the bottom of the Atlantic, said there was no other realistic explanation for what was found in the bag."It seems to us the bag had belonged to a thief or a looter or someone who grabbed what he or she could find in those presumably frightening, chaotic moments before the ship sank," Deuchar said in a telephone interview.

"It contained quite a wide range of material, mostly valuables including cash - American dollars as well as Canadian dollars."

It also contained "male and female jewelry and items that as far as we can tell must have belonged to a range of people."

The bag, recovered in one of the first diving missions to the wreckage in 1987, was being restored and Deuchar hoped it could be included in the exhibition due to open in October.

He said it illustrated how people behave in extreme circumstances. "You frequently hear of looting and a suspension of normal moral and ethical behavior," he said.

"One can speculate endlessly about why the Titanic is so fascinating. It's something about plucking 2,000 people from every walk of society, every culture . . . in kind of a Noah's ark principle you take two of everything and put them in a ship . . . and expose them to the most dreadful crisis."

Every kind of human behavior "from the most admirable to the most awful" follows, Deuchar said - and the artifacts taken from the Titanic illustrated this.

"It's almost too good to be true. It's the world of 1912 in that ship."

More than 1,500 passengers of the "unsinkable" ocean liner drowned when it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York April 15, 1912.