A submersible carrying five people to the Titanic imploded near the site of the shipwreck and killed everyone on board, authorities said Thursday, bringing a tragic end to a saga that included an urgent around-the-clock search and a worldwide vigil for the missing vessel.
Coast Guard officials said during a news conference that they’ve notified the families of the crew of the Titan, which had been missing since Sunday.
The sliver of hope that remained for finding the five men alive was wiped away early Thursday, when the submersible’s 96-hour supply of oxygen was expected to run out and the Coast Guard announced that debris had been found roughly 1,600 feet (488 meters) from the Titanic in North Atlantic waters.
“This was a catastrophic implosion of the vessel,” said Rear Adm. John Mauger, of the First Coast Guard District.
OceanGate Expeditions, the company that owned and operated the submersible, said in a statement that all five people in the vessel, including CEO and pilot Stockton Rush, “have sadly been lost.”
The others on board were: two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
“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 said in a statement. “We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew.”
OceanGate has been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around it via yearly voyages since 2021.
Rescuers rushed ships, planes and other equipment to the site of the disappearance.
Authorities were hoping underwater sounds detected Tuesday and Wednesday might help narrow their search, whose coverage area had been expanded to thousands of miles — twice the size of Connecticut and in waters 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) deep.
But the Coast Guard indicated Thursday that the sounds were likely generated by something other than the Titan.
“There doesn’t appear to be any connection between the noises and the location (of the debris) on the seafloor,” Mauger said.
Mauger said it was too soon to say whether the implosion happened at the time of the submersible’s last communication on Sunday. But it was not detected by sonar buoys used by search crews, he said, which suggests it happened before they arrived several days ago.
“We had listening devices in the water throughout and did not hear any signs of catastrophic failure from those,” he said.
The Coast Guard will continue searching near the Titanic for more clues about what happened to the Titan. Efforts to recover the submersible and the remains of the five men who died will also continue, Mauger said.
The White House thanked the U.S. Coast Guard, along with Canadian, British and French partners who helped in the search and rescue efforts.
“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives on the Titan. They have been through a harrowing ordeal over the past few days, and we are keeping them in our thoughts and prayers,” the statement said.
The Titan launched at 6 a.m. Sunday and was reported overdue Sunday afternoon about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland, as it was on its way to where the Titanic sank more than a century ago. By Thursday, when the oxygen supply was expected to run out, there was little hope of finding the crew alive.
Broadcasters around the world started newscasts at the critical hour Thursday with news of the submersible. The Saudi-owned satellite channel Al Arabiya showed a clock on air counting down to their estimate of when the air could potentially run out.
At least 46 people successfully traveled on OceanGate’s submersible to the Titanic wreck site in 2021 and 2022, according to letters the company filed with a U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, that oversees matters involving the Titanic shipwreck. But questions about the submersible’s safety were raised by former passengers.
One of the company’s first customers likened a dive he made to the site two years ago to a suicide mission.
“Imagine a metal tube a few meters long with a sheet of metal for a floor. You can’t stand. You can’t kneel. Everyone is sitting close to or on top of each other,” said Arthur Loibl, a retired businessman and adventurer from Germany. “You can’t be claustrophobic.”
During the 2 1/2-hour descent and ascent, the lights were turned off to conserve energy, he said, with the only illumination coming from a fluorescent glow stick.
The dive was repeatedly delayed to fix a problem with the battery and the balancing weights. In total, the voyage took 10 1/2 hours.
The submersible had seven backup systems to return to the surface, including sandbags and lead pipes that drop off and an inflatable balloon.
Nicolai Roterman, a deep-sea ecologist and lecturer in marine biology at the University of Portsmouth, England, said the disappearance of the Titan highlights the dangers and unknowns of deep-sea tourism.
“Even the most reliable technology can fail, and therefore accidents will happen. With the growth in deep-sea tourism, we must expect more incidents like this.”
A pilot and four other people were on the Titan. They were:
Although his background is in aerospace and technology, Rush founded OceanGate Inc. in 2009 to provide crewed submersibles for undersea researchers and explorers, according to the company’s website. Rush was the Titan’s pilot, said company spokesperson Andrew Von Kerens.
The private company based in Washington started bringing tourists to the Titanic in 2021 as part of its effort to chronicle the slow deterioration of the wreck.
“The ocean is taking this thing, and we need to document it before it all disappears or becomes unrecognizable,” Rush told The Associated Press in 2021.
In an interview with CBS News last year, Rush defended the safety of his submersible but said nothing is without risk.
“What I worry about most are things that will stop me from being able to get to the surface — overhangs, fish nets, entanglement hazard,” he said, adding that a good pilot can avoid such perils.
Rush became the youngest jet transport rated pilot in the world at age 19 in 1981, and flew commercial jets in college, according to his company biography. He joined McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1984 as a flight test engineer. Over the past 20 years, he oversaw the development of multiple successful IP ventures.
Greg Stone, a longtime ocean scientist and a friend of Rush, called him “a real pioneer” in the innovation of submersibles.
“Stockton was a risk-taker. He was smart. He was, he had a vision, he wanted to push things forward,” Stone said Tuesday.
A British businessman, Harding lived in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Action Aviation, an aircraft brokering company for which Harding served as chairman, said he was one of the mission specialists, who paid to go on the expedition.
Harding was a billionaire adventurer who held three Guinness World Records, including the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel. In March 2021, he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
“Both the Harding family and the team at Action Aviation are very grateful for all the kind messages of concern and support from our friends and colleagues,” the company said in a statement.
In a Facebook post Saturday, Harding said he was “proud” to be part of the mission.
“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 posted. “A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive (Sunday).”
Harding was “looking forward to conducting research” at the Titanic site, said Richard Garriott de Cayeux, the president of The Explorers Club, a group to which Harding belonged.
SHAHZADA AND SULEMAN DAWOOD
Father-and-son Shahzada and Suleman Dawood were members of one of Pakistan’s most prominent families. Their family had said in a statement that they were both aboard the vessel.
Their firm, Dawood Hercules Corp., based in Karachi, is involved in agriculture, petrochemicals and telecommunication infrastructure.
Shahzada Dawood also was on the board of trustees for the California-based SETI Institute that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. The Dawoods lived in the UK, according to SETI.
Shahzada Dawood was also a member of the Global Advisory Board at the Prince’s Trust International, founded by Britain’s King Charles III to address youth unemployment.
He had degrees from the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom and Philadelphia University (now Thomas Jefferson University) in the U.S.
Condolences poured in from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, government officials, friends and ordinary Pakistanis. Pakistani TV stations halted their routine broadcasts and shared the news. Salman Sufi, an adviser to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, wrote on Twitter: “Very sad and unfortunate news. Prayers for the families of deceased. Mr Dawood and family are in our prayers.”
Nargeolet was a former French navy officer who was considered a Titanic expert after making multiple trips to the wreckage over several decades.
David Gallo, a senior adviser for strategic initiatives and special projects at RMS Titanic, said in an interview with CNN that Nargeolet was on board.
He was director of underwater research for E/M Group and RMS Titanic Inc., had completed 37 dives to the wreck and supervised the recovery of 5,000 artifacts, according to his company profile.
He was expedition leader on the most technologically advanced dive to the Titanic in 2010, which used high-resolution sonar and 3D optical imaging on the Titanic’s bow and stern sections as well as the debris field.
While with the French Institute for Research and Exploitation of Sea, he led the first recovery expedition to the Titanic in 1987.