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The Titan submersible was the marine equivalent of a luxury SUV – roomy, robust, and ridiculously expensive. Operated by OceanGate Expeditions, this privately-owned submersible was the go-to vehicle for deep-sea tourists with a penchant for the Titanic and a spare $250,000. But on June 18, 2023, the Titan dived into the Titanic wreckage site and didn’t resurface. This disaster marks the first known fatalities in more than 60 years of civilian deep-sea exploration. It’s a record we could have done without.
1. The Titan’s Disappearance
On June 18, 2023, the Titan submersible, with one pilot and four passengers, became missing while exploring the Titanic wreckage. The Titan stopped communicating about one hour and 45 minutes into the dive. The craft’s breathable air supply was expected to last until June 22, 2023. On that day, a robotic diving vehicle found the debris field from the Titan submersible at the bottom of the North Atlantic. This marked the end of a five-day international rescue effort. The Titan left a breadcrumb trail of fragments about 1,600 feet from the Titanic wreck bow, about 2-1/2 miles below the surface. The debris was consistent with “a catastrophic implosion of the vehicle.”
2. The Search for the Missing Vessel
The Titan went missing off the coast of Newfoundland in southeastern Canada. US and Canadian ships and planes have scourged the area, about 900 miles east of Cape Cod. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack if the haystack was the entire North Atlantic Ocean.
3. Titanic Depths
OceanGate Expeditions, the company that operates the Titan, claims it can dive as deep as 4,000 m (13,000 ft), reaching 98% of the ocean floor. That’s like saying you’ve read 98% of the internet.
4. The Titan: A Deep-Sea Uber
The Titan, a 22-foot-long vessel constructed of carbon fiber and titanium, is the first of its kind to be used for Titanic exploration by tourists. It was an experimental vehicle, the kind you’d expect in a James Bond movie. It used a novel carbon-fiber hull, which bolted shut from the outside, preventing passengers from getting out on their own in an emergency. It also used a video game joystick to control the vessel, utilized consumer-grade parts avoided by others in the industry, and lacked industry certification. It’s like Uber but for shipwreck enthusiasts instead of nightclubs.
5. High-Profile Passengers
Among the passengers were British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman; British billionaire Hamish Harding (pictured just before taking to space with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin in June 2022); French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet; and Stockton Rush, the founder, and CEO, of OceanGate, who also piloted the submersible. One would-be Titan passenger, Las Vegas-based investor Jay Bloom, declined a last-minute chance to join the ill-fated Titan excursion with his son.
6. The Concerns and Controversies
In 2018, the Marine Technology Society expressed unanimous concern regarding Titan development and the planned Titanic Expedition. Also, in 2018, a former OceanGate submersible pilot claimed he was fired for voicing concerns about the Titan’s ability to operate at extreme depths safely. It’s like they had a crystal ball or something.
7. Search-and-Rescue Efforts
The United States Coast Guard, United States Navy, and Canadian Coast Guledding search-and-rescue efforts for the Titan submersible. The search had two facets: a surface search and an underwater sonar search.
8. The Investigation: CSI Atlantic
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) launched a “safety investigation regarding Titan submersible’s operation circumstances.” Why? Because the Titan’s surface support vessel, the Polar Prince, was as Canadian as maple syrup and ice hockey. Meanwhile, the US Navy, not wanting to be left out, analyzed acoustic data and detected “an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion” near the submersible’s location when communication with Titan was lost.
9. The Titanic: A Brief Recap
The original Titanic was a British ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg. In 1985, the wreckage was discovered on the ocean floor around 400 nautical miles (740 km) from Newfoundland. The wreck lies at 3,810 meters (12,500 feet). If you’re still planning a visit, you might want to bring a really, really long snorkel.
Our trivia facts about the Titan Submersible Disappearance were cross-checked with the world’s leading news providers.
- BBC News: Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood and son Suleman: Who is on board the Titanic sub?
- The New York Times: Missing Titan Submersible Passengers: Here’s Who’s On Board
- Reuters: Why US investor Jay Bloom turned down seats on the doomed Titanic submersible
- Reuters: Ships and planes search for the sub that went missing on a trip to Titanic wreckage
- The Guardian: Explorers Club speaks of ’cause for hope’ in Titanic sub search
- The Guardian: Titan submersible tragedy: Canadian investigators board Polar Prince to interview crew and probe data records
- The Washington Post: Who is Hamish Harding, the UK tycoon aboard the missing Titanic sub?
- AP News: A Titanic tourist sub is missing. What we know about the search