On Sunday evening, OceanGate Expeditions revealed they had lost contact with their Titan submarine. The U.S.-based company offers crewed dives for research and commercial purposes but its Titan vessel is the only five-person submarine that can reach the depths of the wreckage — about 2.4 miles below the water’s surface. The sub was the focus of a CBS News story late last year that’s since resurfaced and caused concern about how the underwater craft operates and its safety standards. And our collective anxiety is only growing as the number of days since the vessel vanished grows.
When the Titan set off, the crew inside had 96 hours’ worth of oxygen. As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, estimates are that as little as 40 hours of air remain. Because literal minutes matter here, we’ve put together a timeline of the Titan’s disappearance that we’ll update when news becomes available.
Saturday, June 17th
British billionaire Hamish Harding, 58, shared an eerie post on social media announcing he had joined the expedition. The chairman of Action Aviation has taken part in history-making voyages in the past — he joined former astronaut Buzz Aldrin on his trip to the South Pole and was part of the fifth human space flight with Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company. Still, his account of the Titan’s voyage held some early warning signs that the trip was a dangerous one. He wrote, “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. A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive tomorrow.”
Sunday, June 18th
The sub set sail from its support ship, The Polar Prince, at 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The ship was located 435 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada.
The Polar Prince loses contact with the Titan just one hour and 45 minutes after launch. OceanGate explained that the vessel is required to communicate with the surface every 15 minutes via “pings” or text messages sent through a USBL (ultra-short baseline) acoustic system. According to The Sun, the company had previously stated they used Elon Musk’s Starlink to communicate with the vessel. Either way, there’s been no contact with the crew since the craft went missing.
Harding’s business Twitter account shared images of the Titan before its dive, showing the businessmen and his fellow passengers being ferried to the sub before its launch.
RMS TITANIC EXPEDITION 2023
4am start this morning on the RMS Titanic Expedition Mission 5 with @oceangateexped. The sub had a successful launch and Hamish is currently diving.
Stay tuned for further updates!
— Action Aviation (@actionaviation) June 18, 2023
The Titan was reported “overdue” by The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Monday, June 19th
On Monday afternoon, OceanGate released a statement confirming they had lost contact with Titan which read as follows:
“For some time, we have been unable to establish communications with one of our submersible exploration vehicles which is currently visiting the wreck site of the Titanic. Our entire focus is on the wellbeing of the crew and every step possible is being taken to bring the five crew members back safely. We are deeply grateful for the urgent and extensive assistance we are receiving from multiple government agencies and deep-sea companies as we seek to reestablish contact with the submersible. We pray for the safe return of the crew and passengers, and we will provide updates as they are available.”
According to The Times, The Polar Prince received its final ping from Titan around 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, with its location marked as directly above the Titanic wreckage.
Tuesday, June 20th
The U.S. Coast Guard held a press conference to update the public on the search, which is being conducted with help from the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces. Currently, rescuers are searching an area “larger than the state of Connecticut,” an operation Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick has labeled as “very complex.” There’s also the worry that, when the submersible is found, it will be at a depth that rescuers can’t reach. Marine operations specialist Mike Welham told Sky News, “The biggest problem they’ve got is the depth of water at the Titanic site. It’s about 3,800m and you need very specialized underwater vehicles to go down to that depth and they’re not really readily available. So they have a major problem if they have to search for and recover this vehicle.”