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20th Jun 2023

‘Claustrophobic’ photos show how small the submersible is that went missing during Titanic tour

Steve Hopkins

‘This thing is tiny. Can’t imagine how scary it must be’

People are stunned by just how small the submarine that went missing Sunday on a tour of the Titanic is, with some saying it looks “absolutely terrifying”.

US and Canadian rescuers are trying to locate where the OceanGate sub is after it vanished in the ocean, 1,448km from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at a depth of 4km. Contact was lost with the vessel and hour and 45 minutes into its dive.

David Concannon, an adviser to the company said that the Titan submersible only had between 70 and 96 hours of breathing time left, AP News reported. It has been suggested the oxygen will run out at 6am BST Thursday.

British billionaire Hamish Harding, who has previously travelled on the Challenger Deep to the bottom of the ocean and on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin into space, is on the submarine, as is French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, chief executive and founder of OceanGate, Stockton Rush, along with Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman.

The Titan submersible weighs 23,000 lbs (10,432 kg), measures 6.7m (22ft) in length, and can hold five people for 96 hours. Tickets for an eight-day trip including dives to the wreck at a depth of 3,800m (12,500ft) cost $250,000 (£195,000).

The Titan’s has dimensions of 263 inches x 110 inches x 98 inches, around the same as a minivan, and is impossible for passengers to escape from, as 17 bolts are applied from the outside that have to be removed by an external crew.

Read more about the Titan here

According to CBS journalist David Pogue, who travelled aboard the tiny submarine last year, options on board are scarce if things go wrong.

He told the BBC: “There’s no backup, there’s no escape pod.

“It’s get to the surface or die”.

He added there is no GPS or other communication possible with the vessel outside of a text message relay service with the sub’s support ship.

But the support ship can only communicate with the tiny vessel if it is floating directly above the sub.

Pogue’s CBS documentary showed the sub being controlled by a reinforced Playstation controller.

Clips from Pogue’s trip have been re-shared since the Titan went missing.

One person on Twitter said: “Y’all please watch this. It’s a CBS story that aired a while back about that submarine that is now missing. The creators of that missing submarine are deeply unserious.”

A second added: “The PlayStation controller and the one button are the strongest indicators that no national government had oversight of this thing.”

Other commenters suggested the vessel looks “absolutely terrifying” and that they get “claustrophobic just looking at it”.

The BBC reports Tuesday that US and Canadian search teams are racing against time to find the tourist submarine with government agencies, both countries’ navies and commercial deep-sea firms all involved in the rescue operation.

Experts have also warned that the sub could have fallen to foul ‘catastrophic failure’ or even become entangled in the debris of the famous ship.

“There’s an optimistic option, and that’s that it’s either lost an umbilical communication with the surface or indeed there’s been a malfunction and the submarine continues to operate but obviously out of contact with its mother ship,” former Royal Navy Rear Admiral, Chris Parry told The Mirror

“Obviously, on the other end of the scale, there could have been an accident. It could have become entangled in the wreckage of the Titanic. It could indeed have had a catastrophic failure,” he added.

“Right now, our focus is getting on as much capability into the area as we can,” Rear Admiral John Mauger of the US Coast Guard told a press conference. 

Military planes, a submarine and sonar buoys have so far been used in the search for the vessel.

Retired UK navy rear admiral Chris Parry told Sky News that even locating the missing submarine will be “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,” he said, as per the Daily Mail.

“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.”

The outlet says the vessel is “11,000 feet deeper than the deepest successful undersea rescue so far”. There are five seats on the submersible, including a pilot and a ‘content expert’ as well as three paying customers.

Since 2019, the company has offered tourists the chance to explore the Titanic’s wreckage more than 2 miles below the ocean’s surface off the coast of Canada — at $250,000 per ticket.

The company said in a statement: “Our entire focus is on the crew members in the submersible and their families.

“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.”

The Titan usually operates with one chief pilot, three crew members, and then the tourists who pay for the adventure.

Titanic’s wreck lies some 435 miles (700km) south of St John’s, Newfoundland, though the rescue mission is being run from Boston, Massachusetts.

In a statement OceanGate Expeditions said: “We are exploring and mobilising all options to bring the crew back safely.

“Our entire focus is on the crew members in the submersible and their families.”

“We are working toward the safe return of the crew members.”

The Titanic wreck sits at a depth of 3,800 metres in the Atlantic, roughly 500km off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

The passenger liner, which was the largest ship of its time, hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912. More than 1,500 of the 2,200 people on board died in the disaster.

The shipwreck has been extensively explored since it was discovered in 1985.

Related links:

Submarine that went missing on tour of Titanic will ‘run out of oxygen in 48 hours’

British billionaire among five still missing on Titanic submarine

Company which owns missing Titanic sub confirms people were onboard

Titanic tourist submarine used to view wreck goes missing