The five people aboard the missing submersible died in a ‘catastrophic implosion’.
BOSTON: The five people aboard a missing submersible died in a “catastrophic implosion,” a US coast guard official said on Thursday, bringing a grim end to the international search for the vessel that was lost during a deep-sea voyage to the wreck of the Titanic.
“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, the US-based company that operated the Titan submersible, said in a statement. “Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time.”
An unmanned robot deployed from a Canadian ship discovered the wreckage of the Titan on Thursday morning about 488m from the bow of the century-old wreck, 4km below the surface in a remote area of the North Atlantic, US coast guard rear admiral John Mauger said at a press conference.
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“The debris field here is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vehicle,” Mauger said.
The five aboard included the British billionaire and explorer Hamish Harding, 58; Pakistani-born business magnate Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Suleman, both British citizens; French oceanographer and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, who had visited the wreck dozens of times; and Stockton Rush, the American founder and chief executive of OceanGate, who was piloting the submersible.
Rescue teams from several countries had spent days searching thousands of square miles of open seas with planes and ships for any sign of the 6.7m Titan. The submersible lost contact with its support ship on Sunday morning about an hour and 45 minutes into what should have been a two-hour descent.
Mauger said it was too early to tell when the vessel’s failure occurred. The search operation had sonar buoys in the water for more than three days and had not detected any sort of loud explosive noise during the period, Mauger said.
The buoys had picked up some sounds on Tuesday and Wednesday that temporarily offered hope the people on board the Titan were alive and trying to communicate by banging on the hull.
But officials said analysis of the sound was inconclusive and that the noises might not have emanated from the Titan at all.
“There doesn’t appear to be any relation between the noises and the location of the debris field on the sea floor,” Mauger said on Thursday.
Robotic craft on the ocean floor will continue to gather evidence, Mauger said, but it is not clear whether recovering the bodies will be possible given the nature of the accident and the extreme conditions at those depths.
Five major pieces of the Titan have been found, including most of the pressure hull, officials said.
The search had grown increasingly desperate on Thursday, when the estimated 96-hour air supply was expected to run out if the Titan were still intact.
The Titanic, which sank in 1912 on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg, killing more than 1,500 people, lies about 1,450km east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and 640km south of St John’s, Newfoundland.
The expedition to the wreck, which OceanGate has been operating since 2021, cost US$250,000 per person, according to OceanGate’s website.
Questions about Titan’s safety were raised in 2018 during a symposium of submersible industry experts and in a lawsuit by OceanGate’s former head of marine operations, which was settled later that year.
The sweeping search covered more than 10,000 square miles of ocean – about the size of the US state of Massachusetts. On Thursday, the deployment of two specialised deep-sea unmanned vehicles expanded the search to the ocean’s depths, where immense pressure and pitch-black darkness complicated the mission.
The missing submersible and subsequent hunt captured worldwide attention, in part due to the mythology surrounding the Titanic. The “unsinkable” British passenger liner has inspired both non-fiction and fiction accounts for a century, including the James Cameron blockbuster 1997 movie, which rekindled popular interest in the story.