Rescue operations were underway in the depths of the Atlantic on Monday to search for a state-of-the-art submersible with five people on board to document the wreckage of the iconic ocean liner Titanic, which sank more than 100 years ago.
According to Canada’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ship was reported overdue Sunday night about 435 miles (700 km) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Lieutenant Colonel Len Hickey said Canadian Coast Guard vessels and military aircraft are supporting a search operation led by the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston.
U.S. Coast Guard commander Maj. Gen. John Mauger said additional resources would arrive within days.
“It’s a remote area and it’s difficult to conduct searches in that remote area,” he said. “However, we are committing all available assets to locate the spacecraft and rescue its crew.”
The vessel sank Sunday morning, and a support vessel, the Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, lost contact after about an hour and 45 minutes, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard said on Twitter that the “Polar Prince” will continue its ground search through the evening, while Canada’s P8 “Poseidon” aircraft will resume surface and underground searches in the morning.
The submersible was operated by Oceangate Expeditions.
Oceangate adviser David Concannon said the submarine had been on oxygen for 96 hours beginning around 6 a.m. Sunday. Concannon said in an email to The Associated Press that he was originally scheduled to participate in the dive, but that he was unable to due to other client commitments. He said authorities are working to get remote-controlled vehicles capable of reaching depths of 6,000 meters (about 20,000 feet) to the scene as soon as possible.
The Oceangate expedition to the Titanic sinking site also includes archaeologists and marine biologists. The company also brings in people who pay to accompany them, called “mission specialists.” They take turns operating the sonar equipment and performing other tasks inside her five-passenger submersible. The Coast Guard said Monday that a pilot and four “mission experts” were on board.
Oceangate said its focus is on passengers and their families.
“We are deeply grateful for the extensive support we have received from multiple government agencies and deepwater companies in our efforts to restore contact with the submarine,” the company said in a statement.
British businessman Hamish Harding was one of the mission specialists, according to Action Aviation, of which Harding is chairman. The company’s managing director, Mark Butler, told The Associated Press that the crew departed on Friday.
“We still have plenty of time to go ahead with the rescue operation,” Butler said. “We have equipment on board to survive this situation.” “We all hope and pray for his safe return.”
Harding is a billionaire adventurer and holder of three Guinness World Records, including the longest stay at all depths by a manned vessel. In March 2021, he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space with Blue in his Origin New his Shepard rocket.
Richard Garriott de Cailleux, president of the Explorers Club to which Harding belonged, said Harding “was looking forward to doing research” on the Titanic site.
“We are all eager for the submarine to be found as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.
The expedition was Ocean Gate’s third annual voyage to document the deterioration of the Titanic, which sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912, killing all but 700 of its approximately 2,200 passengers and crew. became. Since its remains were discovered in 1985, it has been slowly decayed by metal-eating bacteria. Some predict the ship could disappear within decades as her hull yawns and parts collapse.
The first group of tourists in 2021 paid between $100,000 and $150,000 per person to go on the trip.
Unlike submarines, which leave and return to port under their own power, submarines require a ship to launch and recover. Oceangate hired the Polar Prince to transport dozens of people and submersibles to the sinking site in the North Atlantic. The submersible will make multiple dives on her single expedition.
The expedition was scheduled to depart St. Johns, Newfoundland, in early May and end in late June, according to documents filed in April by the company with the Virginia U.S. District Court, which has jurisdiction over the Titanic matter.
CBS journalist David Pogue, who took part in the trip last year, noted that his ship had been turned to look for the Titanic.
“There’s no GPS in the water, so the surface ships are supposed to send text messages to guide the submarine to the wreck,” Pogue said in a segment that aired on CBS Sunday Morning. “But for some reason the communication was lost on this dive. The submarine did not find the wreck.”
The submersible, named Titan, is capable of diving to 4,000 meters or 13,120 feet “with a comfortable margin of safety,” Oceangate said in a court filing.
It weighs 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) in the air, but is ballasted to be neutrally buoyant once it hits the seafloor, the company said.
Titan is made of “titanium and filament-wound carbon fiber” and has been proven to “withstand enormous pressures in the deep ocean,” Oceangate said. Oceangate said in court that Titan’s viewport is “the largest of any deep-sea submersible” and that her technology provides “unparalleled views” of the deep sea.
In a May 2021 court filing, Oceangate said Titan has “unparalleled safety features” that assess the integrity of the hull after each dive.
At the time of submission, the Titan had undergone more than 50 test dives in deep water and pressure chambers off the Bahamas, including to depths similar to the Titanic, the company said.
According to court filings in November, Oceangate reported during the 2022 expedition that the submarine had problems with its battery on its first dive and had to be manually attached to a lifting platform.
“Once the submarine sustained minor damage to external components while on the high seas, Oceangate decided to suspend its second mission for repairs and operational enhancements,” the application states.
However, more missions followed. The company said 28 people visited the sinking site last year.
Rescuers face a tough challenge, experts said Monday.
Alistair Greig, professor of marine engineering at University College London, says submersibles usually have a drop weight, which is “mass that can be released in an emergency to use buoyancy to bring them to the surface.” Stated.
“If there was a power outage or communication failure, something like this could have happened, and the submarine would have been hovering over the water waiting to be spotted,” Greig said.
Another scenario is a pressure vessel leak, in which case the prognosis is not good, he said.
“If you’re on the ocean floor and can’t get back on your feet, your options are very limited,” Greig said. “The submersible may still be intact, but if it’s over the continental shelf, few ships can go that deep, let alone divers.”
Even if it could dive that deep, I doubt it would fit in the hatch of an Ocean Gate submarine.
Associated Press reporters Danica Kirka of London, Jill Lawless and Sylvia Hoy, Robert Gillies of Toronto, Olga R. Rodriguez of San Francisco and John Gambrel of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to the report. contributed.