Rescuers were in a race against time to find a missing submersible on today (June 20), two days after it lost communication while taking wealthy tourists to see the wreckage of the Titanic in deep waters off Canada’s coast.
One pilot and four passengers were on board the submersible that disappeared on Sunday. The operating company said it had the capacity to stay underwater for up to 96 hours – giving those aboard until early on Thursday before air ran out.
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger in television interviews today said rescuers continued their efforts overnight and were expanding their search into deeper waters, telling NBC News that authorities were prioritizing the area where the vessel was operating.
Those aboard the submersible, the highlight of a tourist expedition that costs US$250,000 per person, included British billionaire Hamish Harding and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood with his son Suleman.
The 77-year-old French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet and Stockton Rush, founder and CEO of the vessel’s U.S.-based operating company OceanGate, were also reported to be on board. Authorities have not confirmed the identity of any passenger.
“We are very grateful for the concern being shown by our colleagues and friends and would like to request everyone to pray for their safety,” Dawood’s family said today.
U.S. and Canadian ships and planes have been sweeping the area about 900 miles (1,450 km) east of Cape Cod, some dropping sonar buoys that can monitor to a depth of 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).
Rescuers face significant challenges both in finding the Titan and in saving the people aboard, according to experts.
If the submersible experienced an emergency in mid-dive, the pilot would likely have released weights to float back to the surface, according to Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London. But absent any communication, locating a van-sized submersible in the vast Atlantic could prove challenging, he said.
If the Titan is on the ocean floor, a rescue effort would be difficult due to the extreme conditions more than two miles below the surface. The Titanic lies 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) underwater, where light does not penetrate. Only specialized equipment can reach those depths without getting crushed by the massive water pressure.
“It’s really a bit like being an astronaut going into space,” said Tim Matlin, a Titanic expert. “I think if it’s on the seabed, there are so few submarines that are capable of going that deep. And so, therefore, I think it was going to be almost impossible to effect a sub-to-sub rescue.”
OceanGate said it was “mobilizing all options” to rescue those aboard the Titan. Mauger said the company is leading the search efforts with Coast Guard assets brought to the site.
“They know that site better than anybody else,” Mauger said on NBC. “We’re working very closely with them to prioritize our underwater search efforts and get equipment there.”
The Titan lost contact with a Canadian icebreaking ship on the surface about one hour and 45 minutes after it began diving on Sunday, authorities said.
OceanGate’s Titanic expeditions start in St John’s, Newfoundland, before heading out about 400 miles (640 km) to the wreckage site, the company website says.
David Pogue, a CBS reporter, dove to the site on board the Titan last year. In a December news report, he read aloud the waiver he had to sign, which noted the submersible had “not been approved or certified by any regulatory body” and could result in death.
Pogue also documented a failed dive in which communications “somehow broke down” with the surface ship and the submersible never found the Titanic.
Harding, a UAE-based businessman and adventurer who is chairman of Action Aviation, posted a message on Facebook on Saturday, saying: “This mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023.”
Fellow tourist Dawood is vice chairman of Engro, one of Pakistan’s largest conglomerates with investments ranging from fertilisers and energy to vehicle manufacturing.
The sinking of the Titanic, which killed more than 1,500 people, has been immortalized in books and films, including the 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic” that renewed popular interest in the wreck.