Deep-sea ship carrying 5 people to Titanic wreck reported missing, search underway

A rescue operation was underway in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, searching for a technologically advanced submersible carrying five men to document the wreckage of the Titanic, which sank more than a century ago.

The vessel was delayed Sunday night about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, said. Lt. Cmdr. Len Hickey said a Canadian Coast Guard ship and military aircraft were assisting the search effort led by the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston.

Commandant of the US Coast Guard, Rear Adm. John Mager said more evidence will arrive in the coming days.

“It’s a remote area — and conducting a search in that remote area is challenging,” he said. “But we’re using all available assets to make sure we can find the craft and rescue the people on board.”

According to the Coast Guard, the vessel ran aground Sunday morning and lost contact with its support vessel, the Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, an hour and 45 minutes later.

The Coast Guard said on Twitter that the Polar Prince will continue its surface search throughout the evening, and the Canadian P8 Poseidon aircraft will resume their surface and subsurface search in the morning.

The submarine is operated by OceanGate Expeditions.

OceanGate’s consultant David Concannon said the submarine had a 96-hour oxygen supply from 6am on Sunday. In an email to The Associated Press, Concannon said he wanted to do the dive but was unable to because of another client matter. He said authorities are working to bring a remotely operated vehicle that can reach a depth of 6,000 meters (about 20,000 feet) to the site soon.

OceanGate’s expeditions to the Titanic wreck site include archaeologists and marine biologists. The company also brings in paid people called “mission experts.” They take turns operating the sonar equipment and performing other tasks aboard the five-man submarine. The Coast Guard said Monday that a pilot and four “mission specialists” were on board.

OceanGate said its focus is on those on board and their families.

“We are deeply grateful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep-sea agencies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submarines,” it said in a statement.

According to Action Aviation, the company Harding serves as chairman, UK businessman Hamish Harding is one of the mission experts. The company’s executive director, Mark Butler, told the AP that the crew left on Friday.

“There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, in which case survival equipment is on board,” Butler said. “We all hope and pray that he makes a safe return.”

Harding was a billionaire adventurer. In March 2021, he and oceanographer Victor Vescovo dived to the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepherd rocket.

Harding is “looking forward to conducting research” at the Titanic site, said Richard Garriot de Cayux, president of The Explorers Club, a group Harding belonged to.

“We all join in the fervent hope that the submarine will be found as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.

The voyage was Oceangate’s third annual voyage to chronicle the devastation of the Titanic, which hit an iceberg in 1912 and sank, killing all but 700 of its approximately 2,200 passengers and crew. Since the wreck was discovered in 1985, it has been slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria. Some predict that the ship will disappear in a few decades as holes and sections disintegrate.

An initial group of tourists in 2021 paid between $100,000 and $150,000 to travel.

Unlike submarines that can launch and return to port under their own power, submarines require a ship to launch and recover them. OceanGate hired the Polar Prince to transport dozens of people and submarines to the North Atlantic wreck site. A submarine will make several dives in one trip.

The voyage was scheduled to depart St. John’s, Newfoundland in early May and finish in late June, according to documents filed by the company in April with the U.S. District Court in Virginia, which oversees Titanic affairs.

CBS journalist David Bock, who went on the voyage last year, noted that his ship had returned in search of the Titanic.

“Underwater there is no GPS, so the surface ship has to guide the shipwrecked mate by sending text messages,” Bogue said in a segment that aired on CBS Sunday Morning. “But on this dive, communications somehow broke down. The mate never found the wreck.

The submarine, named Titan, is capable of diving to 4,000 meters, or 13,120 feet, with a “comfortable margin of safety,” OceanGate said in its court filing.

It weighs 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) in the air, but will remain neutrally buoyant once it reaches the surface, the company said.

The Titan is made of “titanium and filament wound carbon fiber” and has proven to “withstand the enormous pressures of the deep sea,” OceanGate said. OceanGate told the court that Titan’s viewport is “the largest of any deep-diving submarine” and that its technology provides an “unrivaled view” of the deep sea.

In a May 2021 court filing, Oceangate said the Titan has an “unparalleled safety feature” that assesses the integrity of the hull throughout each dive.

At the time of filing, the company said, Titan had conducted more than 50 test dives in deep water and pressure chambers off the Bahamas, including the same depth as the Titanic.

During its 2022 voyage, OceanGate said it had battery problems on its first dive and had to be manually tethered to its lifting platform, according to a November court filing.

“In high seas, the submarine sustained moderate damage to its external components and Oceangate decided to cancel the second mission for repairs and operational improvements,” the filing said.

However, further work continued. The agency said 28 people visited the wreck last year.

Rescue workers face tough challenges, experts said Monday.

Alistair Craig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, says that submarines typically have a drop weight, which is “a mass that can be brought to the surface using buoyancy in an emergency.”

“This could have happened if there had been a power failure and/or communication failure, and the submarine would have been on the surface waiting to be found,” Craig said.

Another scenario is a leak in the pressure hull, and in this case the prognosis is not good, he said.

“If it can’t go down to the ocean floor and rise again under its own power, the options are very limited,” Craig said. “Even if the submarine is intact, if it’s beyond the continental shelf, there are very few ships that can reach that depth, certainly not divers.”

Even if they could go that deep, he doubted they would be able to attach the hatches of Oceangate’s submersible.

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AP reporters Danica Kirka, Jill Lawless and Sylvia Hui in London, Robert Gillies in Toronto, Olga R. Rodriguez and John Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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