The submersible carrying five people slipped into the dark waters of the North Atlantic on its way to what was left of the Titanic, 12,500 feet below sea level. The expedition, like many before it, was a testament to the enduring fascination with the legendary ship that struck an iceberg and sank off Newfoundland more than a century ago.
But an hour and 45 minutes into Sunday morning’s dive, the craft disappeared, sparking a search by rescue teams from two countries and adding another layer of mystery and intrigue to the wreck of the Titanic.
Among those aboard was Hamish Harding, a British aviation magnate who took part in Blue Origin’s fifth manned spaceflight last year and holds several Guinness World Records, including the one for longest time traversing the part deeper than the ocean in one dive.
In social media posts, Mr. Harding had been writing enthusiastically about the upcoming trip. “Proud to finally announce that I have joined @oceangateexped on their RMS TITANIC mission as a mission specialist on the sub going down to the Titanic,” he said on Instagram, adding: “More expedition updates to follow, IF the weather holds . “
On Monday, officials had no explanation as to why the vessel called the titanlost contact with his Canadian surfaced expedition vessel, MV Polar Prince, about 400 miles south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
But a US Coast Guard spokesman, Rear Admiral John Mauger, told a news conference that people aboard the ship, which is designed to survive a 96-hour emergency, would theoretically have at least 70-96 hours of oxygen before the situation became dire.
“We’re using that time by making the best use of every moment of that time,” he said.
The Coast Guard was coordinating with Canadian authorities and commercial vessels to help search an area about 900 miles east of Cape Cod at a depth of about 13,000 feet, he said. Sonar buoys were deployed in the water and the expedition vessel was using sonar to try to locate the submersible. Planes from the United States and Canada, along with surface vessels, were scanning the waves in case the submersible surfaced and lost communications, she said.
“We are doing everything we can,” Admiral Mauger said at the press conference, adding that it was “a challenge to conduct a search in that remote area, but we are deploying all available resources to ensure we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board.
Officials have not released the names of those on board, but Mr Harding, chairman of Dubai-based airline sales and operations company, Action Aviation, was confirmed aboard the missing submersible by Mark Butler, the company’s chief executive. .
Mr. Harding said in another post that Paul Henry Nargeolet, a French expert on the Titanic, was supposed to have been on the missing vessel.
The 21-foot vessel is operated by OceanGate Expeditions, a company that is based in Washington State and offers tours of underwater wrecks and canyons for $250,000 per person. OceanGate calls the Titan the world’s only manned submersible capable of taking five people down to 4,000 meters – or more than 13,100 feet – allowing it to reach nearly 50 percent of the world’s oceans. The vessel usually carries a pilot, three paying guests, and a “content expert”.
In a statement on Monday, OceanGate said, “Our entire attention is with the crew members of the submersible and their families. We are deeply grateful for the extensive assistance we have received from various government agencies and deep-sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible.
The Marine Institute at Memorial University Newfoundland in Canada, which partnered with OceanGate during the trip, said in a statement it realized Monday morning that OceanGate had lost contact with its Titan submersible. “We have no further information on the status of the submarine or personnel,” a statement read.
RMS Titanic, a luxury ocean liner and the largest ship in the world when it was built, struck an iceberg and sank on a Sunday in April 1912, on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City. For decades afterward, researchers scoured the North Atlantic looking for the wreck of the ship on the ocean floor.
Finally, in 1985, a team took the underwater robots to a depth of more than 12,000 feet and verified that the broken hulk they’d found less than 400 miles off Newfoundland was, in fact, the Titanic of lore.
The ruined wreck of the Titanic sits in water about two and a half miles deep, far deeper than ordinary submarines can venture. At that depth, the water pressure is hundreds of times higher than just below the surface.
A submarine en route to the Titanic faces dizzying and crushing pressure during its long descent. At the ship’s resting place, the weight of the frozen ocean she pressed would have been equal to that of a solid lead tower above her head that stood the height of the Empire State Building.
Typically, researchers and researchers searching such inky depths rely on advanced robots using remote-controlled systems of television, photography, and sonar mapping that can survive the crushing pressures and pierce through the darkness. But such exploratory work is costly and often frustrating.
For 111 years, the sinking of the Titanic had garnered intense interest among researchers and treasure hunters fascinated by its tragic story: the horror of the accident, the inadequacy of the lifeboats, the alleged arrogance of the ship’s builders and operators , the enormous wealth of many and the poverty of others on board and the deadly indifference of the iceberg and the sea.
Tourists paid for submersible diving in the early 2000s. Salvage teams have searched for artifacts to bring to the surface, despite objections from conservationists who said the wreck should be honored as the graveyard of more than 1,500 people. Researchers said the site was littered with beer and soda bottles and remnants of rescue efforts, including weights, chains and cargo nets.
James Cameron, the award-winning director, reinvigorated interest in the ship with his 1997 film, ‘Titanic’. Mr. Cameron’s cinematic success has imbued the wreck with a new story of romance and tragedy, renewing interest far beyond those interested in the famous maritime incidents.
In the early 2000s, scientists warned that visitors posed a threat to the wreck, saying holes had blown in the decks, walls had crumpled, and rustici — icicle-shaped rust structures — were crumbling. spreading throughout the vessel.
Mr Cameron, who has visited the Titanic several times, was among those asking for assistance around the site. He brought 3D cameras there for his 2003 documentary, “Ghosts of the Abyss.”
When OceanGate Expeditions, a private company founded in 2009, began offering tours to paying customers, researchers said Titanic had little scientific value compared to other sites. But cultural interest in the vessel remains extraordinarily high, and the disaster continues to exert an online allure, sometimes at the expense of the facts.
Last summer, OceanGate President Stockton Rush told The New York Times that private exploration was needed to continue fueling public fascination with the wreck site.
“No public body will fund the return to the Titanic,” Rush said. “There are other sites that are newer and probably of greater scientific value.”
Ocean Gate also shared a one minute clip of video obtained during one of his trips to the wreck site. Mr Rush said the high quality of the footage allowed researchers to get an even closer look at the site without having to go underwater.
He likened OceanGate travel to space tourism, saying commercial travel was the first step in expanding the use of submersibles for industrial activities, such as the inspection and maintenance of underwater oil rigs.
The dives offered by the company last about eight hours, including the estimated 2.5 hours each way to descend and ascend. Scientists and historians provide context on the trip, and some conduct research on the site, which has become a coral reef home to many organisms. The team also document the wreck with high-definition cameras to monitor its decay and capture it in detail.
In his post on instagramMr. Harding, who boarded the sub before she lost contact, wrote of the planned dive: “The team on the sub has a pair of legendary explorers, some of whom have made over 30 dives on the RMS Titanic since the ’80”.
He also said, “Due to the worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, this mission will likely be the first and only crewed mission on the Titanic in 2023.”
Amanda Holpuch AND William J Broad contributed report.