By Gareth Evans & Laura Gozzi
A submersible craft used to take people to see the wreck of the Titanic has been missing in the Atlantic Ocean with its crew on board since Sunday, sparking a major search and rescue.
Contact with the submersible was lost about one hour and 45 minutes into the vessel’s dive, the US coast guard said.
Tour firm OceanGate said it was exploring all options to get the crew back safely.
Government agencies and deep sea firms are helping the rescue operation.
OceanGate charges $250,000 (£195,612) a seat for expeditions to the Titanic, which lies some 3,800m (12,500ft) beneath the waves about 435 miles (700km) south of St John’s, Newfoundland.
The missing craft is believed to be OceanGate’s Titan submersible, a truck-sized sub that holds five people and usually dives with a four-day emergency supply of oxygen.
On Monday, Rear Adm John Mauger of the US Coast Guard told a news conference: “We anticipate there is somewhere between 70 and the full 96 hours available at this point.”
He also said that two aircrafts, a submarine and sonar buoys were involved in the search for the vessel but noted the area in which the search is taking place was “remote”, making operations difficult.
Rear Adm Mauger said the rescue teams were “taking this personally” and were doing everything they could to bring those on board “home safe”.
On social media at the weekend, Mr Harding said he was “proud to finally announce” that he would be aboard the mission to the wreck of the Titanic – but added that due to the “worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, this mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023”.
He later wrote: “A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive tomorrow.”
OceanGate said in a statement that its “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 re-establish contact with the submersible,” it added.
The company bills the eight-day trip on its carbon-fibre submersible as a “chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary”.
According to its website, one expedition is ongoing and two more have been planned for June 2024.
The submersible usually carries a pilot, three paying guests, and what the company calls a “content expert”.
The trip sets sail from St John’s in Newfoundland, which is around 370 miles (600km) from the wreckage site. Each full dive to the wreck, including the descent and ascent, reportedly takes around eight hours.
The OceanGate website lists three submersibles it owns, and only the Titan is capable of diving deep enough to reach the Titanic wreckage.
The vessel weighs 10,432 kg (23,000 lbs) and, according to the website, can reach depths of up to 4,000m and has 96 hours of life support available for a crew of five.
A vessel called the Polar Prince, which is used to transport submersibles to the wreckage site, was involved in the expedition, its owner told the BBC.
David Pogue, a CBS reporter who travelled in the Titan submersible last year, told the BBC about the issues that both the submersible crew and the land crew are likely to be experiencing, saying that there is currently “no way” to communicate with the vessel as neither GPS nor radio “work under water”.
“When the support ship is directly over the sub, they can send short text messages back and forth. Clearly those are no longer getting a response,” Mr Pogue said.
He added that because the passengers are sealed inside the vessel by bolts applied from the outside, “there’s no way to escape, even if you rise to the surface by yourself. You cannot get out of the sub without a crew on the outside letting you out.”
The Titanic, which was the largest ship of its time, hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912. Of the 2,200 passengers and crew onboard, more than 1,500 died.
Its wreckage has been extensively explored since it was discovered in 1985.
The wreck lies in two parts, with the bow and the stern separated by about 800m (2,600ft). A huge debris field surrounds the broken vessel.
Last month, the first full-sized digital scan of the wreck was created using deep-sea mapping. The scan shows both the scale of the ship, as well as some minute details, such as the serial number on one of the propellers.
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