A submersible watercraft with five people on board has been missing since shortly after it set out on Sunday to explore the site of the Titanic shipwreck in the North Atlantic. The vessel is thought to be equipped with only a few days’ worth of oxygen.
The American and Canadian Coast Guards, commercial vessels and aircraft have been involved in searching for the missing vessel.
Here’s what we know.
When and where did the submersible disappear?
The 22-foot carbon-fiber and titanium craft, called the Titan, was deployed by a Canadian expedition ship, the MV Polar Prince, to travel nearly 13,000 feet down to the shipwreck site, on the ocean floor off Newfoundland.
The Titan lost contact with the surface ship an hour and 45 minutes after it started to dive on Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Who owns the vessel, and why was it diving?
OceanGate Expeditions, a private company, operates the submersible. For this trip, the company partnered with the Marine Institute at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.
OceanGate organizes expeditions that can last up to nine days for tourists who are willing to pay hefty prices to travel to shipwrecks and underwater canyons. According to the company’s website, OceanGate also provides crewed submersibles for commercial projects and scientific research.
The company was founded by Stockton Rush, an aerospace engineer and pilot, who also serves as its chief executive officer.
OceanGate calls the Titan the only crewed submersible in the world that can take five people as deep as 4,000 meters — more than 13,100 feet — below the surface of the ocean, enabling it to reach almost 50 percent of the world’s seabed. Images of the vessel’s interior show that those onboard would have limited space to stand or sit.
The company has taken people on tours of the Titanic site since 2021, and guests have paid $250,000 to travel to the wreckage.
Who was on board for this trip?
There are five people in the missing submersible. As of Tuesday morning, four of them have been identified: Hamish Harding, a British businessman and explorer; the Pakistani executive Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman; and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French maritime expert who has been on more than 35 dives to the Titanic wreck site.
Where is the Titanic wreck, exactly?
Once the biggest steamship in the world, the Titanic hit an iceberg four days into its first voyage, in April 1912, and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. More than 1,500 people died.
The wreck was discovered in pieces in 1985, about 400 miles off Newfoundland.
Searchers are scouring the sea.
The U.S. Coast Guard was coordinating with the Canadian authorities and commercial vessels to help search for the Titan. Sonar buoys were deployed in the water, and the expedition ship was using sonar to try to locate the submersible underwater.
Aircraft from the United States and Canada, along with surface vessels, were searching the ocean surface in the area, in case the submersible had surfaced but had lost communications, according to a Coast Guard spokesman.
French authorities said on Tuesday that they were diverting a research vessel equipped with an exploration robot, which was on a mission 48 hours’ sailing away from the Titanic site, to help search for the missing submersible.
A team of experts was expected to arrive in Canada on Wednesday and would head from there to the search area to operate the robot, which can dive to more than 13,000 feet, Hervé Berville, France’s junior minister in charge of maritime affairs said in a statement.
The British Ministry of Defense, which hosts NATO’s submarine rescue system in Scotland, said on Tuesday that it was monitoring the search. The water depth at the Titanic wreck site greatly exceeds the depths where the NATO rescuers can operate, the ministry said.
It’s a very difficult search.
A submersible vessel diving down to the Titanic wreck encounters crushing pressure during the long descent. At the ship’s resting place, the weight of the icy ocean pressing down from above would be equal to that of a tower of solid lead as tall as the Empire State Building.
For search-and-rescue operations at sea, weather conditions, the lack of light at night, the state of the sea and water temperature all play a role in whether stricken mariners can be found and rescued.
Rescuing people underwater is even more difficult than on the surface. Many underwater vehicles are fitted with an acoustic homing beacon that emits sounds that can be detected underwater by rescuers. It’s unclear if the Titan has one.
An additional hazard is posed by the wreckage: The Titan or a rescue vessel could become hung up on a piece of wreckage that prevents it from returning to the surface.
If the submersible is found at the bottom of the sea, the extreme depths would limit the possible means for a rescue. Divers wearing specialized equipment and breathing helium-rich air mixtures can safely reach depths of only a few hundred feet below the surface before having to spend long periods decompressing on the way back up. A couple of hundred feet deeper, light from the sun will no longer penetrate the water.
Typically, searchers and researchers looking in such inky depths rely on advanced robots with remote-controlled television, photography and sonar-mapping systems that can survive the crushing pressures and pierce the darkness. But such exploratory work can be expensive and frustrating.
“We are doing everything we can do,” said Rear Adm. John Mauger, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Reporting was contributed by William J. Broad, Emma Bubola, Amanda Holpuch, John Ismay, Jesus Jiménez, Victoria Kim, Salman Masood, Anna Betts and Alan Yuhas.