‘Catastrophic failure’: Five people on Titanic sub believed dead after debris discovered

Innovation

Titanic tourist submersible disappear on an expedition to explore the famed shipwreck

The five passengers on OceanGate’s Titan submersible are believed to have been lost, the company stated.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Key Takeaways
  • U.S. Coast Guard District Northeast announced Thursday afternoon a debris field contained external parts of the Titan submersible had been discovered in an area near the wreck of the Titanic.
  • Paul Hankins, the director of the U.S. Navy’s salvage operations and ocean engineering for the U.S. Navy, said in a press conference researchers first discovered a debris field containing the submersible’s nose cone and the front of its pressure hull, which he called “the first indication there was a catastrophic event.”
  • Researchers then found a second debris field in what the Coast Guard called a “complex operating environment” that contained the second half of the hull, which Hankins said “comprised the totality of the vessel.”
  • The debris—found just over 1,600 feet off the Titanic’s bow—is “consistent with the catastrophic loss” of the submersible’s pressure chamber, Coast Guard officials said.
  • OceanGate lauded the passengers as “true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans,” saying it is “a very sad time for the entire explorer community.”
  • The Coast Guard plans to start pulling some of its nine ships from the area over the next 24 hours, but will continue remote operations on the seafloor.

Five people were on board the submersible. Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions that owns and operates the vessel; Hamish Harding, a Dubai-based British aviation mogul and adventurer who previously completed a dive to Challenger Deep—the deepest point on the ocean floor—and had taken a ride to space onboard a Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin rocket; Shahzada Dawood, a prominent British-Pakistani businessman and member of energy and petrochemical conglomerate Engro Corp.; Dawood’s son, Suleman; and 77-year-old Titanic researcher Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Key Background

The ordeal began Sunday, less than two hours after it began its descent to the site of the Titanic’s wreck. The submersible suddenly lost contact with its support ship on the surface, triggering a search and rescue effort later that evening.

At the time of its descent, the submersible was estimated to have around 96 hours worth of oxygen reserves for all its five crew members, which added urgency to the search.

Early on Wednesday, a Canadian marine reconnaissance aircraft detected “underwater noises” in the search area, prompting the rescuers to move their remote-operated vehicle search operation to that location, although this did not immediately result in the discovery of the underwater vessel.

OceanGate Titan

What To Watch For

It is unclear how OceanGate Expeditions and the submersible tourism industry will be impacted, as critics have raised serious questions about the safety of such dives. CBS News previously reported that the submersible had “not been approved by any regulatory body.” The underwater vessel’s design also received pushback from an industry trade group that wrote to OceanGate back in 2018.

The Marine Technology Society had warned that the “experimental” nature of the submersible could result in negative outcomes “from minor to catastrophic,” that would impact the entire private diving industry. It was particularly concerned about OceanGate not adhering to the “DNV-GL” class rules, a set of industry regulations intended to ensure the safety of such vessels. In 2019 the company wrote a blog post claiming that standards like DNV-GL would do little to improve safety as “innovation often falls outside of the existing industry paradigm.”

The “jerry-rigged” nature of the submersible’s design drew widespread media attention and criticism. Parts of the Titan were built using supplies from RV supplier Camping World and some of the onboard systems were controlled using an off-the-shelf Xbox-style gamepad. Stockton also infamously told CBS News in a 2022 interview that a single button is used to operate the submarine, like an elevator.

This story was first published on forbes.com

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