What We Know About The Missing Sub Exploring The Titanic

On June 18, a submersible craft from OceanGate Expeditions plunged into the water 900 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to explore the wreckage of the RMS Titanic 13,000 feet below. As CNN says, the eight-day expedition set out from Newfoundland, Canada without a hitch. Sometime Sunday morning, however, the Titan — the name given the expedition's 23,000-pound carbon fiber-and-titanium submersible — vanished without a trace. 

The Titan's support ship, the Canadian vessel Polar Prince, lost contact with the Titan 1 hour and 45 minutes into its 2-hour descent. The Independent says that five people are on board the Titan: OceanGate founder Stockton Rush, French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, Action Aviation owner Hamish Harding, and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Sulaiman. Their craft is equipped with four days of emergency oxygen. On Monday, June 19, Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger said that he estimated between 70 and 96 hours of oxygen were left. 

Search and rescue operations are currently underway. As CNN says, the depth of the Titan and vagueness of its location make it extremely difficult to find. Taking weather conditions into account — foggy air, cloudy skies, and choppy waves — it's difficult to arrive at the location where the Titan descended, let alone conduct thorough search measures either by sea or air. To make matters worse, OceanGate Expeditions advisor David Concannon told NewsNation (via the Independent) that the U.S. government is hampering rescue efforts by being slow to reply to his queries and to take action.

[Featured image by Fidodog14 and SandyShores03 via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0 | Cropped and scaled]

A multi-year mission to map the Titanic's wreckage

By all accounts the crew heading out to visit the Titanic isn't composed of amateurs. David Concannon, advisor to OceanGate Expeditions, told the Independent, "[They are] the same group, the experts, that did the advanced survey of the Titanic last year." Concannon was assumedly referring to the 2022 and 2021 OceanGate visits to the Titanic, both of which finished without incident. Concannon, it should be noted, was scheduled to join the current dive but pulled out at the last minute.

As OceanGate says, its current objective is to document the wreckage of the Titanic before it deteriorates further. In May 2023, BBC News aired footage of a recently mapped, 3D model of the Titanic produced by Magellan Ltd. and discussed on The New York Times. In its current state the ship is an absolute shamble of debris and refuse. Magellan's model — a "digital twin" — shows each and every encrusted door, twisted staircase, crag of metal, and discarded glass bottle on the ship, right down to the serial number on its propellers. 

And yet, historian Parks Stephenson on BBC News states that many questions remain about the Titanic's crash, including basic questions like where it collided with the iceberg that sank it. The Titanic wasn't even discovered until 1985, and it is very difficult to reach. That's why companies like OceanGate and its lost submersible want to learn as much about the ship as possible before it decays beyond recognition.

[Featured image by NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled]

Ongoing search and rescue efforts

On The Repository, Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger describes the difficulties in conducting a search for the lost Titan. He also said, "We are deploying all available assets to make sure that we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board.” The search is a joint U.S.-Canada venture, beginning with two aircraft from each country along with an unnamed commercial vessel. More ships and aircraft will be added to the search as it progresses. 

For its part, OceanGate calmly stated, "We are 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," and, "We are working toward the safe return of the crewmembers." Action Aviation managing director Mark Butler, meanwhile — the company owned by billionaire Hamish Harding, one of the five missing expeditioners — expressed similar sentiments. The Repository quotes him as saying, "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. We're all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound."

Despite their familiarity with the expedition, the five lost people on the Titan are, strictly speaking, tourists. As CNN says, they paid $250,000 apiece for the trip. The Repository says that OceanGate started the current venture in 2021 as a way to inaugurate annual tourist visits to the sunken Titanic.