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What we know about missing tourist submarine that disappeared on an expedition to Titanic shipwreck

A massive search unfurled on Monday as authorities probed the North Atlantic for a tourist submarine that went missing over the weekend on an expedition to explore the famous Titanic shipwreck. Here’s what we know so far about the submersible craft and what may have happened to it.

What happened?

A five-person crew on a submarine named Titan and owned by OceanGate Expeditions submerged Sunday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday afternoon, and the crew of the Polar Prince research ship lost contact with the submersible nearly two hours later.

Hamish Harding, a British billionaire, is reportedly onboard the submersible along with four additional, as-of-yet unidentified, people.

The Coast Guard is expected to release more information during a Monday afternoon briefing slated for 4:30 p.m., ET.


Search and rescue is underway

News of the vanished submersible and subsequent search broke earlier on Monday. At the time, Lt. Jordan Hart, of the Coast Guard in Boston told CBS News that personnel there were leading the rescue mission, and focusing on waters off Newfoundland in eastern Canada. Hart said Coast Guard personnel were “currently undergoing a search and rescue operation” in that area in an effort to locate and recover the submarine. 

The Boston Regional Coordination Center was managing the rescue operation, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard confirmed. The location of the Titanic shipwreck falls within the Boston coordination center’s territory, according to a map of jurisdictions along the East Coast of North America.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had a C-130 crew searching for the sub approximately 900 miles off Cape Cod, and that the Rescue Coordination Center Halifax is assisting with a P8 Poseidon aircraft, which has underwater detection capabilities.


The missing submarine

The unique submersible craft that disappeared is owned by OceanGate Expeditions, a company that deploys manned submarines for deep sea exploration and has in the past advertised this particular sub’s endeavor to carry tourists down to the wreckage of the RMS Titanic for $250,000 per seat. More than a century after the Titanic sunk in April 1912, the wreck lies about 400 miles southeast of the Newfoundland coast. 

Map showing the point where the RMS Titanic sank
A map shows the point where the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, on April 15, 1912, about 380 miles southeast of the Newfoundland, Canada, coast and some 1,300 miles east of its destination in New York City.


OceanGate said recently on its website and on social media that an expedition to the shipwreck was “underway,” describing the seven-night trip as a “chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary.” In addition to one ongoing expedition, the company had planned two others for the summer of next year, according to the site.

In a statement, OceanGate confirmed the missing submarine is theirs and acknowledged that a rescue operation had been launched to find and recover it. The company said it was “exploring and mobilizing all options to bring the crew back safely.” The company did not clarify how many people were inside the sub when it departed from Canada, and it was not clear whether anyone on board the vessel was a passenger who paid to tour the Titanic. 


Who is Hamish Harding?

Hamish Harding, a 59-year-old British billionaire, businessperson and explorer, was reportedly onboard the submarine when it disappeared, according to BBC News, which noted that Harding announced publicly his decision to join the Titanic shipwreck expedition. In a post shared to his Facebook page on Saturday, Harding wrote: “I am proud to finally announce that I joined OceanGate Expeditions for their RMS TITANIC Mission as a mission specialist on the sub going down to the Titanic.”

I am proud to finally announce that I joined OceanGate Expeditions for their RMS TITANIC Mission as a mission specialist…

Posted by Hamish Harding on Saturday, June 17, 2023

“Due to the worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, this mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023,” the Facebook post continued. “A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive tomorrow. We started steaming from St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada yesterday and are planning to start dive operations around 4am tomorrow morning. Until then we have a lot of preparations and briefings to do.”

That post was Harding’s most recent social media update related to the submarine trip. It included multiple photographs of him, including one that showed Harding signing his name on a banner that read “Titanic Expedition Mission V” and another that pictured the submersible vessel itself.

Harding’s company, Action Aviation, later confirmed that he was one of the tourists on board, The Associated Press reported. 


“There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event,” the company’s managing director, Mark Butler, told the AP. “We’re all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound.”

Harding is a veteran adventure tourist who traveled to space aboard a Blue Origin rocket last year.

“Focus is on the crewmembers”

“Our entire focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible and their families,” OceanGate said in its statement Monday, adding that it was “deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to reestablish contact with the submersible.” 

Exactly when the vessel last made contact has not been made public either, although the Coast Guard said in an update Monday that a crew was “searching for an overdue Canadian research submarine” in waters roughly 900 miles from the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. 

Personnel from the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, a city in the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, near Newfoundland, sent its P8 Poseidon aircraft to assist in the search since the craft has “underwater detection capabilities,” the Coast Guard wrote in a separate update Monday afternoon.

OceanGate said in a tweet shared earlier this month that it was using the satellite company Starlink to maintain communication with the submersible craft as it journeyed toward the Titanic wreckage.

“Despite being in the middle of the North Atlantic, we have the internet connection we need to make our Titanic dive operations a success — thank you Starlink,” OceanGate wrote in the tweet, which it posted alongside an image of the submersible attached to a deck on the surface of the ocean. The company last tweeted about its Titanic expedition on June 15.


The Titan

Dubbed the Titan, OceanGate’s deep sea vessel is said to be the only five-person submersible in the world with capabilities to reach its depth at nearly 2 1/2 miles beneath the ocean’s surface, CBS “Sunday Mornings” correspondent David Pogue reported last year. 

It is one of three submersible crafts owned by OceanGate that appear on the company’s website, BBC News reported, adding that the vessel typically carries a pilot, three paying guests and another person described as a “content expert” by the company. Referencing the OceanGate website, which was down on Monday afternoon, BBC News additionally reported that the Titan, weighing around 23,000 pounds, is billed for its ability to reach depths of up to 4,000 meters — just about 2 1/2 miles — and has about 96 hours of live support for a crew of five people.

In the fall, Pogue hoped to accompany the Titan crew on a successful round-trip from Newfoundland to the Titanic wreck, but their expedition was canceled when weather conditions indicated it may not be safe. At the time, he described the Titan as a one-of-a-kind submersible craft made from thick carbon fiber and coated on both ends by a dome of titanium. 


A visit to RMS Titanic


Ahead of the planned dive, Pogue recalled signing paperwork that read, in part, “This experimental vessel has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, emotional trauma, or death.” Space inside the submarine was similar to the interior of a minivan, and, with just one button and a video game controller used to steer it, the vessel “seemed improvised, with off-the-shelf components,” Pogue said.


Published: 2023-06-19 21:32:00


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