A multinational search for a deep-sea submersible carrying five individuals on a journey to the Titanic wreckage came to a tragic end, as the U.S. Coast Guard announced on Thursday that the submersible had experienced a “catastrophic implosion,” resulting in the death of everyone on board.
During the morning hours on Thursday, a robotic diving vehicle deployed from a Canadian vessel discovered a debris field from the submersible named Titan, resting on the seabed approximately 1,600 feet (488 meters) away from the bow of the Titanic. This remote area, located 2 1/2 miles (4 km) beneath the surface in the North Atlantic, became the final resting place of the Titan, as confirmed by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger in a press briefing.
The Titan, operated by OceanGate Expeditions, a U.S.-based company, had been missing since it lost contact with its surface support ship on Sunday morning. The submersible had been approximately one hour and forty-five minutes into what was supposed to be a two-hour dive to the iconic shipwreck.
Coast Guard officials reported that five significant fragments of the Titan, including its tail cone and two sections of the pressure hull, were located within the debris field resulting from its disintegration. There was no mention of any human remains being found.
“The debris field indicates a catastrophic implosion of the submersible,” stated Mauger.
Before the Coast Guard’s announcement, OceanGate issued a statement confirming the absence of survivors among the five individuals on board the Titan. This included the company’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, who was piloting the submersible.
The other victims were identified as British billionaire and explorer Hamish Harding, aged 58; Pakistani-born businessman Shahzada Dawood, aged 48, and his 19-year-old son Suleman, both British citizens; and French oceanographer and renowned Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, aged 77, who had made numerous visits to the wreck in the past.
“These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure and a deep passion for exploring and preserving the world’s oceans,” expressed the company. “Our thoughts are with the families of these five individuals during this tragic time.”
Teams from the United States, Canada, France, and Britain had dedicated several days to scanning thousands of square miles of open seas using planes and ships in search of any sign of the Titan.
The extensive media coverage of the search overshadowed the aftermath of a more significant maritime disaster, involving a migrant vessel off the coast of Greece, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS UNCLEAR
According to Mauger, it was too early to determine when the implosion occurred. The search teams had deployed sonar buoys in the area for over three days but did not detect any significant loud or violent noises associated with the submersible’s disintegration.
However, the proximity of the debris field to the shipwreck, along with the timeline of the last communication with the Titan, suggested that the failure occurred towards the end of its descent on Sunday.
The U.S. Navy also acknowledged that its acoustic data analysis revealed “an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion” in the vicinity of the submersible’s location at the time of communication loss.
Although not conclusive, this information was promptly shared with the search mission commanders, as stated by a senior Navy official in a statement reported by the Wall Street Journal. The sound was allegedly detected by a top-secret system designed to identify enemy submarines.
Filmmaker James Cameron, renowned for directing the Oscar-winning movie “Titanic” and having personal experience exploring the wreck in submersibles, mentioned in an interview with Reuters that he learned about the acoustic findings within a day and understood their significance.
“I sent emails to everybody I know and said we’ve lost some friends. The sub had imploded. It’s on the bottom in pieces right now. I sent that out Monday morning,” Cameron recounted.
Sonar buoys deployed by aircraft had captured some sounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, raising hopes temporarily that the Titan remained intact and its occupants were alive, attempting to communicate by banging on the hull.
However, officials declared that the sound analysis was inconclusive and that the noises likely originated from another source.
“There doesn’t appear to be any connection between the noises and the location on the sea floor,” Mauger clarified on Thursday.
RECOVERY CHALLENGES AND CONCLUSION
Mauger stated that robotic vehicles deployed on the seabed would continue to gather evidence. However, given the circumstances of the accident and the extreme conditions at those depths, it remained uncertain whether the victims’ remains could be recovered.
“Over the next 24 hours, we will begin demobilizing personnel and vessels from the scene,” the admiral announced.
As Thursday progressed, the search grew increasingly desperate as the estimated 96-hour air supply for the submersible was expected to run out if the Titan were still intact, although this countdown proved irrelevant.
The RMS Titanic, which famously sank after striking an iceberg during its maiden voyage in 1912, resulting in the loss of over 1,500 lives, lies approximately 900 miles (1,450 km) east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and 400 miles (640 km) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
OceanGate has been conducting undersea expeditions to the Titanic wreck since 2021, with each trip costing $250,000 per person, according to the company’s website.
In 2018, concerns were raised about the safety of the Titan during a symposium of submersible industry experts and in a lawsuit filed by OceanGate’s former head of marine operations. The lawsuit was subsequently settled later that year.
The extensive search effort covered over 10,000 square miles of ocean. On Thursday, the deployment of two specialized deep-sea robotic vehicles expanded the search to even greater depths, where immense pressure and complete darkness added complexity to the mission.
The fate of the tourist submersible garnered global attention, fueled in part by the enduring fascination surrounding the Titanic. The “unsinkable” British passenger liner has captivated the world’s imagination for a century, inspiring numerous nonfiction and fiction accounts, including the blockbuster 1997 film “Titanic,” which reignited popular interest in the tragic story.