Search for missing Titanic exploration vessel to continue through the night

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic tour submersible: Search operation underway off N.L. coast'
Missing Titanic tour submersible: Search operation underway off N.L. coast
WATCH: A major operation is underway off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador to find an OceanGate Expeditions submersible. Eric Sorensen reports on the desperate search – Jun 19, 2023

Canadian and U.S. crews were prepared to continue searching overnight Monday for a submersible that has gone missing in the northern Atlantic Ocean during an underwater expedition to view the site of the Titanic shipwreck.

The update comes as the clock ticks down for the five people on board the small vessel who may have less than three days left of reserve oxygen available.

After combing the area about 700 kilometres south of St. John’s, N.L., throughout the day from the air and on the water, the U.S. Coast Guard said surface searches will continue throughout the evening. It added that Canadian-led surface and subsurface operations will resume in the morning.

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Officials say the five-person crew submerged for their expedition Sunday morning, but the surface launch ship Polar Prince lost contact with them about one hour and 45 minutes into the dive.

Rear Adm. John Mauger, the commander of the Coast Guard district in Boston leading the search, told reporters Monday afternoon the vessel is equipped with 96 hours of reserve oxygen in the event of an emergency — giving rescue crews at minimum about 70 hours left from that time to find the crew alive if they remain submerged.

“That gives us some time to affect a search,” he said. “But when something happens on the high seas, it gets complicated quickly.”

The Coast Guard quickly launched surface and aerial searches upon being alerted to the missing submersible Sunday afternoon, Mauger said.

Click to play video: 'U.S. Coast Guard launches search after Titanic-bound tourist submarine goes missing'
U.S. Coast Guard launches search after Titanic-bound tourist submarine goes missing

Canada’s Department of National Defence told Global News that the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Halifax has tasked one Royal Canadian Air Force Aurora aircraft for an aerial search, and Canadian Coast Guard vessel Kopit Hopson is also assisting with a surface search for the submersible.

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Mauger said the Canadian crews also deployed sonar buoys in the water in an attempt to listen for signs of the submersible.

“Right now our (underwater) capability is limited to sonar buoys and listening for sounds, but you know we are working very hard to increase the capability,” Mauger said.

The water is about 4,000 metres deep at the search location, which Mauger said is within the range of sonar.

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic sub: Coast Guard says 70-96 hours of emergency air remaining for rescue'
Missing Titanic sub: Coast Guard says 70-96 hours of emergency air remaining for rescue

“It is a remote area, and it is a challenge to conduct a search in that remote area, but we are deploying all available assets to make sure we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board,” he said.

OceanGate Expeditions, a private company that deploys submersibles for deep sea exploration, confirmed that the missing vessel belongs to them and that it is “exploring and mobilizing all options to bring the crew back safely.”

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“Our entire focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible and their families,” said OceanGate, adding that it was “deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to reestablish contact with the submersible.”

A photograph of the RMS Titanic moored in Southampton in April 1912 on display at ‘Titanic, Return to Cherbourg’ exhibition, at Cite de la Mer Museum in Cherbourg, western France in March 2012. David Lefranc /

The cost for a tourist to visit the wreck is approximately $250,000 and includes an eight-day mission to the wreckage site. Money raised during those tours goes toward furthering Titanic research.

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According to The Guardian, OceanGate began taking small crews of “citizen scientists” to the Titanic shipwreck site in a five-person mini submersible two years ago.

OceanGate Expeditions recently posted on its website and social media feeds that one of its expeditions was “underway”. The eight-day, seven-night expedition was planned for June 12 to 20 and a maximum of six visitors were scheduled to depart from and return to St. John’s.

“We started the business and it was this idea of researchers and wealthy people,” OceanGate founder Stockton Rush told The Guardian earlier this year. “Is there a way to match those people who wanted to have an adventure travel experience with researchers who need funding and a sub?”

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Action Aviation confirmed that its company chairman, U.K. businessman Hamish Harding, was one of the tourists on board. The company’s managing director, Mark Butler, told the The Associated Press that the crew set out on Friday.

“Every attempt is being made for a rescue mission. There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event,” Butler said. “We’re all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound.”

Harding himself posted on Facebook Sunday that he was “proud” to join the expedition as a mission specialist. He has not posted since.

Harding’s stepson wrote on Facebook that Harding had “gone missing on submarine” and asked for “thoughts and prayers.” The stepson subsequently removed the post, citing respect for the family’s privacy, Reuters reported.

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Jill Heinerth, a deep sea explorer not involved in the OceanGate expedition, told Global News there are “many, many layers of failsafe, manual and automatic — ways of getting back to the surface. Like, they can drop the ballast that holds them underwater and simply float back to the surface.”

As well, those onboard would be well trained in the safety and support of the vessel, she said.

Jill Heinerth is one of the world’s most celebrated deep sea explorers.

Heinerth says the “greatest likelihood” as this point is that the vessel has simply lost communication with its above-water team. It might be taking the submersible a while to float back to the surface of the water, she said, or perhaps its “bobbing on the surface and they just need to locate it.”

OceanGate’s 2023 expedition was its third to the site of the sunken ocean liner to document its deterioration and sea life.

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The expedition was scheduled to finish up at the end of June, according to a court documents filed by the company in April with a U.S. District Court in Virginia that presides over Titanic matters.

OceanGate hired the Canadian vessel Polar Prince, a medium duty icebreaker that was formerly operated by the Canadian Coast Guard, to ferry dozens of people and the submersible craft to the North Atlantic wreck site.

Click to play video: 'B.C. businessman has up close encounter with the Titanic'
B.C. businessman has up close encounter with the Titanic

The 5-person submersible, named Titan, is capable of diving 4,000 metres “with a comfortable safety margin,” OceanGate said in its filing with the court.

It weighs 20,000 lbs. in the air, but is ballasted to be neutrally buoyant once it reaches the seafloor, the company said.

The Titan is made of “titanium and filament wound carbon fiber” and has proven to “withstand the enormous pressures of the deep ocean,” OceanGate stated.

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OceanGate told the court that Titan’s viewport is “the largest of any deep diving submersible” and that its technology provides an “unrivaled view” of the deep ocean.

Upon its demise, the Titanic came to rest about 3,800 metres below sea level, 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland.

Click to play video: '1st 3D scan of Titanic shipwreck unveiled'
1st 3D scan of Titanic shipwreck unveiled

Chris Parry, a retired navy rear admiral from the U.K., told Sky News that the rescue taking place was “a very difficult operation.”

“The actual nature of the seabed is very undulating. Titanic herself lies in a trench. There’s lots of debris around. So trying to differentiate with sonar in particular and trying to target the area you want to search in with another submersible is going to be very difficult indeed.”

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic sub: How could the vessel disappear?'
Missing Titanic sub: How could the vessel disappear?

The Titanic, largely thought to be unsinkable at the time, hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton in the U.K. to New York on April 15, 1912. The tragedy claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people.

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This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

— With files from The Associated Press and Reuters

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