The Titan, a submersible bound for the Titanic wreckage deep under sea level, went missing an hour and 45 minutes into its dive. It has five passengers on board. Image: Ocean Gate / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
In an ironic ‘reality is stranger than fiction’ twist, an expensive expedition that took five people underwater in a submersible to see the remains of the Titanic at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, has gone missing.
On Wednesday morning (IST), the US Coast Guard reported on Twitter that a Canadian search aircraft has detected ‘underwater noises in the search area’ and has relocated its search to find the origin of the noises. “Those ROV searches have yielded negative results but continue”, the Twitter statement read.
What is the Titanic tourist expedition?
US firm OceanGate launched an underwater expedition to visit the Titanic shipwreck in a submersible called the Titan. The eight-day sojourn costs $250,000 per person.
The Titan is a five-person vehicle designed to dive down to 4,000 metres (13,000 feet). It has oxygen or life support that can last five crew members for 96 hours. It is typically used for research, inspection and data collection, and took off on a tourist expedition on June 18, 2023, with five people on board. Within an hour and 45 minutes, it lost contact with its support ship, off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada.
Its breathable oxygen is meant to run out by the morning of June 22, 2023, local time. Search and rescue operations continue by US Coast Guard after a tourist submarine bound for the Titanic's wreckage site went missing off the southeastern coast of Canada. Image: Ocean Gate / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Who is on board the Titan?
While authorities have not officially released the names of the missing people, international news outlets have confirmed that the following five people are on board:
Capt. Jamie Frederick of the U.S. Coast Guard gives an update on the search. efforts for five people aboard the missing submersible, approximately 900 miles off Cape Cod, on June 20, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. Image: Scott Eisen/Getty Images
- British billionaire, aviator and explorer Hamish Harding, 58, who lives in the UAE. Harding is the founder of private equity investment firm Action Group and the chairperson of aviation brokerage company Action Aviation. According to his LinkedIn profile, Harding spent five years in Bengaluru as managing director of Logica India from 1997 to 2022.
He holds multiple Guinness Records, and has visited the South Pole with astronaut Buzz Aldrin; he also flew to space on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin spacecraft in 2022.
- Pakistani millionaire Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son, Suleman, 19. Dawood, who hails from one of Pakistan’s richest families, is vice-chairman of Pakistani conglomerate Engro Corporation, encompassing agriculture, petrochemicals and telecommunication infrastructure. He lives in the UK with his family, but spent a month in Canada prior to the dive. Suleman is a student. The family has confirmed in a statement to the Associated Press that the father-son duo were aboard the submersible.
- Former French navy officer Paul-Henry Nargeolet, who is a Titanic expert and has reportedly spent more time at the shipwreck than anyone else. He visited the shipwreck first back in 1987.
- OceanGate chief executive Stockton Rush is on board, a spokesperson confirmed to The New York Times.
What do we know so far?
The submersible had 40 hours of oxygen left at 1 pm EST on Tuesday, the US Coast Guard said, which gives search parties time until Thursday morning in the same time zone. However, the search is complicated because of the sheer depth of the mission: The Guinness Record for the deepest underwater rescue ever was at 1,575 ft around Ireland, where the crew was trapped for 76 hours. The Titanic shipwreck is nearly 13,000 ft below sea level.
It is unclear how deep the Titan submersible has been. The submersible, unlike a submarine, can’t stay underwater for long. The Titan has hosted similar expeditions to the Titanic wreck of 10 to 11 hours. This image courtesy of Dirty Dozen Productions shows Hamish Harding ahead of the 4am start of the RMS Titanic Expedition Mission 5 on the morning of June 18, 2023. Image: Dirty Dozen Productions / AFP
As far back as 2018, OceanGate received several warnings about the dangers of the submersible, including from its Director of Marine Operations, David Lochridge, who worked on a “scathing document” that said the craft needed more testing, warning of potential dangers. Soon after, about three dozen external experts wrote a letter to Stockton Rush collectively expressing ‘unanimous concern’.
“Our apprehension is that the current experimental approach adopted by Oceangate could result in negative outcomes (from minor to catastrophic) that would have serious consequences for everyone in the industry,” the letter said. The wreck of the Titanic, which sank in April 1912, is lying 4,000 meters into the sea. Image: Xavier DESMIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
The search is on
The US Coast Guard, US Navy, US Air Force, Canadian Coast Guard, and Canadian military have all joined the search; France has also sent a research vessel with an underwater robot. Experts say that even after the submersible is traced, rescue will be a complex operation depending on its depth.
According to CNN, “the US Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines usually operate at 800 feet or less—meaning they can’t dive down to the ocean floor, where water pressure on the submarine hull could make it implode”. In case of the Guinness Record-holding rescue operation in Ireland, other submersibles and remotely operated recovery vessels were used to pull it back to surface. It is not yet clear if these methods will work for the Titan.