Search and rescue operation underway for a submersible touring Titanic wreckage

Jun 19, 2023, 3:23 PM

The bow of the Titanic, photographed during an early dive to the vessel in 1986.
Mandatory Credit:	...

The bow of the Titanic, photographed during an early dive to the vessel in 1986. Mandatory Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/Reuters

The military branch received a phone call Sunday informing them the Canadian research ship Polar Prince had lost contact with the underwater vessel and were overdue on checking with their communications, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Samantha Corcoran.

“Right now, we are just trying to use all efforts and work with international partners to try to get any resources out there to safely locate all five individuals,” she said.

The missing submersible lost contact 1 hour and 45 minutes into its descent, the Coast Guard said.

See our live coverage here.

The group conducting the expedition, OceanGate Expeditions, said it is “exploring and mobilizing all options to bring the crew back safely.”

“Our entire focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible and their families. We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to reestablish contact with the submersible,” the group said. “We are working toward the safe return of the crewmembers.”

Chief Mi’sel Joe of Miawpukek First Nation, which co-owns the Polar Prince, the support vessel on the expedition, said he received a call Sunday afternoon alerting him the sub was two hours overdue and still hadn’t surfaced, and they had lost communication with the sub. At that point, requests for search and rescue had gone out, he said.

OceanGate Expeditions operates a trip taking passengers to the Titanic’s wreckage at the bottom of the ocean for prices starting at $250,000, according to an archived version of its website, accessible via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

“Follow in Jacques Cousteau’s footsteps and become an underwater explorer — beginning with a dive to the wreck of the RMS Titanic. This is your chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary,” the website said. “Become one of the few to see the Titanic with your own eyes.”

The eight-day expedition is based out of St. John’s, Newfoundland and begins with a 400-nautical-mile journey to the wreck site. There, up to five people, including a pilot, a “content expert” and three paying passengers, board a submersible named “Titan” and descend over two hours to the bottom of the ocean to see the Titanic up close.

According to OceanGate, Titan is a 23,000-pound submersible made of carbon fiber and titanium. As a safety feature, the sub uses a “proprietary real-time hull health monitoring (RTM) system” that analyzes the pressure on the vessel and the integrity of the structure, the company states. It also has life support for a crew of five for up to 96 hours, the website states.

The Titanic infamously hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912, killing over 1,500 people. The wreckage of the Titanic, discovered in 1985, sits in two parts at the bottom of the ocean nearly 13,000 feet below the surface, southeast of Newfoundland.

Unlike a submarine, a submersible has limited power reserves so it needs a mother ship that can launch and recover it, according to NOAA.

CNN has reached out to authorities in Newfoundland, Canada.

Coast Guard ‘bringing all assets to bear’ in search

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and a P-8 Poseidon aircraft with underwater detection capabilities from RCC Halifax are on scene, and a Canadian Coast Guard ship is also heading to the area, Corcoran said.

In an interview with Fox News, First District Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger said the Coast Guard is “bringing all assets to bear” in search of the missing submersible.

“So this is a comprehensive approach to try and locate this submersible, but it is a large area of water and it’s complicated by local weather conditions as well,” he said.

One of the individuals on the missing sub posted photos of it on Sunday before its launch.

The photos, posted on a dive participant’s business Instagram page, show the sub sitting in a cradle-like flotation device in the ocean. A caption accompanying the photos said it “had a successful launch” and was “currently diving.”

Another post from the account, posted on Saturday, noted the weather had been bad but a “window” had opened up for Sunday.

CNN is not naming the individual at this time but has reached out to their company for comment.

An expedition participant on board the Polar Prince, the ship that launched the now-missing sub, said they are all “focused on board here for our friends.”

“We have a situation that is now the part of a major Search and Rescue effort, being undertaken by major agencies,” Rory Golden wrote on Facebook after being contacted by CNN. “That is where our focus is right now.”

He asked people not to ask for or speculate on the names of those on the missing sub.

“I have seen some comments already on social media that are highly inappropriate and insensitive,” he said. He added their online and internet options were being restricted “to keep bandwidth available for the coordinated effort that is taking place.”

“The reaction and offers of help globally is truly astonishing, and only goes to show the real goodness in people at a time like this,” he said. He ended the post thanking everyone and saying, “… think positive. We are.”

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Search and rescue operation underway for a submersible touring Titanic wreckage