OceanGate Expeditions promotional video for Titanic dive
A rescue operation is underway deep in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean on Monday in search of a submarine with five people on board, including UK billionaire Hamish Harding.
However, maritime experts have warned the challenges were significant – with the crew of the technologically advanced submersible vessel believed to have less than 70 hours of oxygen left.
The craft, named Titan, went missing during a mission to document the wreckage of the Titanic, the massive ocean liner that sank in 1912, having been reported overdue on Sunday night roughly 435 miles south of St John’s, Newfoundland, according to Canada’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Lieutenant Commander Len Hickey said a Canadian Coast Guard vessel and military aircraft were assisting the search effort, which was being led by the US Coast Guard in Boston.
Rear Admiral John Mauger, a commander for the US Coast Guard, said additional resources would arrive in the coming days.
READ MORE: Last photos of missing adventurer on Titanic submarine
The Titan was on a mission to explore the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic
He added: “It is a remote area – and it is a challenge to conduct a search in that remote area. But we are deploying all available assets to make sure we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board.”
Ian Ballantyne, the editor of International Warships Fleet Review magazine, told Express.co.uk: “It is very sad if they are lost, but I think the organisation running the expeditions makes it clear how risky they are to all participants.
“Submarine operations, whether civilian or military, are by their nature risky.
“If they suffered a hull rupture the craft and its occupants will likely have swiftly met their end.”
Mr Ballantyne continued: “If the craft has retained hull integrity along with air plus power to maintain life support systems, there may be a chance…though submarine rescue beyond the continental shelf is unheard of even in the military.
“There may be rescue systems that can perhaps try? The best hope may be for the vessel to be on the surface somewhere and just out of communication with the host ship.
“Hopefully surface searches can then locate it.”
Hamish Harding is a British billionaire
Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, said submersibles typically have a drop weight, which is “a mass they can release in the case of an emergency to bring them up to the surface using buoyancy.”
He contiued: “If there was a power failure and/or communication failure, this might have happened, and the submersible would then be bobbing about on the surface waiting to be found.”
Another scenario is a leak in the pressure hull, in which case the prognosis is not good, he said.
He explained: “If it has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, options are very limited.
“While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers.”
Even if they could go that deep, he doubted they could attach to the hatch of OceanGate’s submersible, which is made of titanium and filament wound carbon fibre, and which weights 20,000lbs when out of the water.
According to the Coast Guard, the craft submerged Sunday morning, and its support vessel, the Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, lost contact with it about an hour and 45 minutes later.
The Polar Prince will continue to do surface searches throughout the evening and Canadian P8 Poseidon aircraft will resume their surface and subsurface search in the morning, the Coast Guard said on Twitter.
The submersible was operated by OceanGate Expeditions.
David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate, said the submersible had a 96-hour oxygen supply starting at roughly 6am Sunday (10am GMT).
Mr Concannon said he was supposed to be on the dive but could not go due to another client matter. He said officials were working to get a remotely operated vehicle that can reach a depth of six kilometres (3.7 miles) to the site as soon as possible.
OceanGate’s expeditions to the Titanic wreck site include archaeologists and marine biologists. The company also brings people who pay to come along, known as “mission specialists.” They take turns operating sonar equipment and performing other tasks in the five-person submersible. The Coast Guard said Monday that there was one pilot and four “mission specialists” aboard.
A map showing the submarine’s last known location
OceanGate said its focus was on those aboard and their families.
In a statement it said: “We are 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.
Mr Harding was one of the mission specialists, according to Action Aviation, a company for which Harding serves as chairman. The company’s managing director, Mark Butler, said the crew set out on Friday.
He added: “There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event. “We’re all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound.”
Harding is a billionaire adventurer who holds three Guinness World Records, including the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel. In March 2021, he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
Harding had been “looking forward to conducting research” at the Titanic site, said Richard Garriott de Cayeux, the president of The Explorers Club, a group to which Harding belonged.