A large multinational search by five people who had descended to view the wreck of the sunken RMS Titanic ended Thursday after pieces of the privately owned submarine that had carried them were found on the ocean floor, evidence of a « catastrophic implosion » with no survivors, according to the US Coast Guard.
The dramatic search effort, in a remote area of the North Atlantic 900 miles off Cape Cod, Mass., mesmerized people around the world for days after the 22-foot jet ski, named Titan, lost contact with her mothership less than two hours into her voyage. traveling on Sunday. The grim discovery, by a remote-controlled vehicle scouring the seabed, has also drawn attention to high-risk, high-cost adventure tourism, raising questions about the safety protocols followed by the companies handling such expeditions.
« Our thoughts are with the families, and we are making sure they have the best possible understanding of what happened, » Rear Admiral John Mauger, commander of the Coast Guard’s 1st District, said at a news conference in Boston. « It’s a complex case to work on, but I’m hopeful these questions will begin to be answered. »
Stockton Rush, 61, chief executive officer of OceanGate Expeditions, the company that owned Titan, was piloting the submersible and among those presumed dead. Others aboard were Hamish Harding, 58, a British explorer; Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, a French maritime expert who had made more than 35 dives on the Titanic; Shahzada Dawood, 48, British businessman; and his 19-year-old son, Suleman Dawood, a college student.
The search for the missing ship was at first seen as a race against time, as rescuers hoping that the Titan might still be intact scrambled to the area where it went down before its oxygen supply ran out. ran out. Hopes were raised on Wednesday after the noises were detected underwater by maritime surveillance planes; US Navy experts analyzed the sounds for signals that could be attempts by Titan passengers to signal their location.
But on Thursday afternoon, four days after the ship’s disappearance, those hopes were dashed by evidence uncovered more than two miles below the ocean’s surface: Titan’s tail cone adrift on the seabed, a third of a mile from the bow of the Titanic, along with the two broken ends of her pressure hull. The debris, Admiral Mauger said, was « consistent with the catastrophic leak of her pressure chamber. »
On Thursday evening, a US Navy official said underwater sensors had recorded readings « consistent with an explosion or implosion » shortly after loss of contact. That information was sent to the incident commander to help narrow down the search area, the official said.
Without conclusive evidence of a catastrophic failure, it would have been « irresponsible » to assume the five people were dead, the Navy official said, so the mission was being treated as an ongoing search and rescue even though the outcome looked grim.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the Navy’s possible detection of the implosion.
When asked about the prospect of recovering the bodies of the victims, Admiral Mauger said he did not have an answer. « This is an incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the seabed, » he said.
The search for the Titan has sparked an international response, as French, British and Canadian ships headed to the Titanic’s final resting place, ferrying high-tech search and rescue equipment. There was a robot that could search 13,000 feet below the surface of the ocean and a hyperbaric recompression chamber used to treat diving-related ailments. But the effort was held back by the enormous distance they had to travel to reach the site, a journey of several days for some.
There is no indication that the ship imploded following a collision with the wreck of the Titanic; debris from the Titan was found in a nearby area where the sea floor is smooth, said Carl Hartsfield, an underwater vehicle designer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who assisted the Coast Guard with the search.
Nine ships remained in the area as the search for the Titan’s remains and mapping of the debris field continued Thursday afternoon, but Admiral Mauger said they would begin to disperse over the next 24 hours.
« These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans, » OceanGate Expeditions said in a statement. « Our hearts go out to these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. »
With his expedition business, founded in 2009 in Everett, Wash., Mr. Rush had sought to open up wider access to deep sea exploration. Starting in 2021, the company has been offering tourists, travelers and Titanic fanatics who could afford the $250,000 price tag a firsthand look at the remains of the infamous shipwreck that killed more than 1,500 people on its maiden voyage in April 1912 after the luxury liner hit an iceberg .
But Mr. Rush’s feat has also drawn concern and criticism from industry peers who feared that insufficient safety testing and lax precautions would put his passengers at risk.
James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director and dive expert whose 1997 blockbuster Titanic fueled a new wave of fascination for it, slammed OceanGate in an interview Thursday for betraying the trust of its fare-paying passengers by forgoing safety certifications.
Along with other experts, Mr Cameron said the carbon-fiber composites used in Titan’s construction pose a risk because the material was not designed to withstand the crushing pressure placed on ships in the deep ocean.
Concerns about the company’s practices weren’t new. In 2018, three dozen people – industry leaders, deep-sea explorers and oceanographers – sent a letter to Mr. Rush, warning that the company’s « experimental » approach could lead to potentially « catastrophic » problems.
Titan’s last dive almost didn’t happen, as weather conditions weren’t cooperating. When a window suddenly opened, Mr. Harding, a veteran explorer, saw it as a fluke. « Due to the worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, » he wrote on Saturday in a social media post, « this mission will likely be Titanic’s first and only crewed mission in 2023. »
His last dive was anything but deep. In 2021, Mr. Harding made a record-breaking journey to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. A four-hour, 15-minute elevation gain of 36,000 feet, the journey took him nearly three times as deep as the site of the Titanic. According to a media report at the time, only 18 people had ever traveled to the area, known as the Challenger Deep. By comparison, 24 astronauts have orbited or landed on the moon.
Mr. Harding knew the risks. “If something goes wrong, you won’t come back,” he said in an interview after diving in 2021.
The conditions inside the submarine were not luxurious. Images from the company’s website showed a vessel with a metal tube-like interior, where passengers sat on the floor with their backs to the curved walls. There were no chairs, little room to move or stand, and a single picture window, 21 inches in diameter.
However, for some with money and a passion for adventure, the promise of a rare experience was worth the risk of death, a risk repeatedly detailed in legal waivers signed by passengers, according to some who had made the trip.
The thrill of extreme limits had called Mr. Rush since childhood. In an interview with « CBS Sunday Morning » in 2022, the OceanGate founder said he grew up wanting to be an astronaut and, later, a fighter pilot.
« It was about exploring, » Mr. Rush said. “It was about finding new life forms. I wanted to be some kind of Captain Kirk. I didn’t want to be the passenger behind. And I understood that the ocean is the universe.
The report was provided by William J. Broad, Eric Schmitt, Mike Ives, Jesus Jimenez, Daniel Victor, Anushka Patil, Emma Bubola, Jacey Fortin, Nicholas Bogel Burroughs, Keith Collins, Jenny Gross, Anna Betts AND Ben Shpigel.