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Submersible vanishes near Titanic wreck; search efforts underway

A submersible vessel exploring the wreckage of the Titanic vanished Sunday off the coast of southeastern Canada, triggering a search effort in the North Atlantic for the five people on board who rescuers estimate have three to four days of life support available.

The Coast Guard began its search after the submersible lost contact with the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince during a dive that took place 900 miles east of Cape Cod on Sunday morning. The submersible was designed to hold 96 hours of emergency oxygen in the event of a calamity, Coast Guard Rear Adm. John Mauger said Monday at a news conference.

“We anticipate that there’s somewhere between 70 to the full 96 hours available at this point,” Mauger said. “We’re using that time, making the best use of every moment of that time, to locate the vessel.”

The dive was organized by OceanGate Expeditions, a private research and tourism company. Among the five passengers aboard the submersible vessel were one commander who piloted the ship and four “mission specialists” who paid to take part in the expedition, according to Mauger.

OceanGate alerted the Coast Guard of the vessel’s disappearance Sunday afternoon after contact was lost roughly one hour and 45 minutes into its dive. OceanGate Expeditions said in a statement it was “mobilizing all options” to rescue those on board, and that its “entire focus is on the crew members in the submersible and their families.”

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft, as well as a Canadian P8 aircraft equipped with underwater sonar capability, are searching for the missing submersible. An additional C-130 from the New York National Guard is expected to join the aerial search Monday evening. Commercial companies in the area are also aiding in the search.

A submersible used to take tourists to the Titanic wreckage went missing off the coast of southeastern Canada with a crew aboard on June 19. (Video: OceanGate Expeditions)

In 2021, OceanGate Expeditions began taking crews of “citizen scientists” or “crew members” in the submersible to view the wreck of the RMS Titanic. Its website says OceanGate conducts eight-day expeditions to the wreck, with one currently underway and the next one planned for June 2024.

“OceanGate Expeditions makes you a full member of the crew and the experience allows you to participate in every aspect of the expedition,” says a review on the company’s website attributed to two-time customer Renata R.

In a 2022 interview with CBC News, OceanGate CEO and Founder Stockton Rush said the goal of the repeated subaquatic expeditions is to offer researchers an opportunity to analyze changes surrounding the sunken ship, including the development of coral reefs, decay of the ship’s metal and changes to the ocean’s current.

During Monday’s news conference, Mauger said the Coast Guard and OceanGate would not be sharing the names of the vessel’s passengers out of respect for families who were still being notified of the ship’s disappearance. Several people who appeared to be passengers shared posts on social media ahead of the voyage.

Hamish Harding, a wealthy British businessman, said he would be one of several passengers aboard the vessel. He shared an Instagram post Sunday detailing how severe weather had made planning the voyage difficult. “This mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023,” he wrote.

On Facebook, David Concannon, an attorney and ocean explorer, shared a post saying, “I was supposed to be on this expedition and, indeed, on this dive, but I had to cancel to attend to another urgent client matter.”

The Titanic, the largest ship of its time, was touted as unsinkable before its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York in April 1912 with more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board. After striking an iceberg, it sank into the North Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people, according to most estimates. Its wreckage now lies on the ocean floor under 12,500 feet of water, roughly 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.

Last year, Rush told CBS News that the expedition costs $250,000 per person. Rush said some of the Titanic enthusiasts — or “Titaniacs” — who travel on the submersible mortgage their homes to go on the trip or save for 30 years, while others are so rich they don’t think twice about the cost.

David Pogue, a CBS reporter who went on the Titanic expedition, said via Twitter that the submersible he traveled on also went missing for a few hours last year.

Neither Rush nor OceanGate could be immediately reached Monday to discuss the missing vessel.

A submersible is different from a submarine because the former is supported by a surface vessel, platform, shore team or sometimes a larger submarine.

Rare footage of 1986 Titanic dive provides haunting look at wreck

The Titanic has already been in the news several times this year. In May, an underwater 3D-scanning project led by British deep-sea mapping company Magellan revealed a “digital twin” of the vessel with stunning features of the wreckage.

Earlier this year, largely unseen footage of the ship from 1986 was revealed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, an ocean research nonprofit. The video, which shows the wreckage of the Titanic months after it was discovered, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the movie “Titanic,” whose writer and director James Cameron continues to support Titanic research.


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