A friend of the British billionaire trapped inside a submarine missing on a voyage to the Titanic wreck has revealed the last text he received from him.
Retired Nasa astronaut Colonel Terry Virts said Hamish Harding had messaged him to say: ‘Hey, we’re headed out tomorrow, it looks good, the weather’s been bad so they’ve been waiting for this.’
As rescue teams continued the search for the submersible vessel which has five people onboard, Colonel Virts added that he and his friend ‘don’t really talk about risks’.
Mr Harding is chairman of private plane firm Action Aviation, which said he is one of the mission specialists on the OceanGate Expeditions vessel reported overdue on Sunday evening about 435 miles south of St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
A major search and rescue operation, which is being led by the US Coast Guard and involves military aircraft 900 miles east of Cape Cod, continued this morning.
Colonel Terry Virts, a friend of Hamish Harding, speaks to ITV’s Good Morning Britain today
Hamish Harding is trapped inside a submarine missing on a voyage to the Titanic wreck
This is the last sighting of the submersible vessel, Titan, which was launched on Sunday
And Colonel Virts told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today: ‘We don’t really talk about risks, it’s known. He understood the risks for sure, there’s no doubt about that.
‘The last text I got was, “Hey, we’re headed out tomorrow, it looks good, the weather’s been bad so they’ve been waiting for this”.
‘He went down to the deepest part of the ocean, set a few world records… at the Mariana Trench [deepest part of the ocean] and we talked quite a bit about the risks and the different things that they were going to be able to do. So he was very excited about it.’
Mr Harding set a Guinness world record for the longest duration spent at the bottom of the sea.
The London-born adventurer dived in a submersible to the deepest place on Earth, the Mariana Trench, and traversed it for four hours 15 minutes in 2021.
It was one of three world records the 58-year-old has earned. He set another one for the longest distance – three miles – covered at the bottom of the ocean.
His first was set in 2019, for the fastest circumnavigation of the Earth via North and South Poles in a Gulfstream 650ER business jet. And last year he went into space.
Speaking about the voyage to the Titanic, Colonel Virts added: ‘They are actually going there for a fun trip, but they’re doing some serious science also. The wreck of the Titanic has been changing over the years, it’s starting to disintegrate.
‘And there are several scientists on the mission that are actually looking at the sub-sea surface and how the Titanic is going. So it wasn’t just a fun trip, they were actually doing real exploration for all of humanity.
OceanGate Expeditions is one of the companies that offers the tours of the famous shipwreck
The US Coast Guard in Boston is now looking for the missing vessel off Newfoundland
The crew was diving to the ocean floor to survey the Titanic wreckage
‘Titanic is not only important to Britain, it’s important to everybody. So they are able to see how the vessel is deteriorating over the years under the ocean.’
The US Coast Guard said the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince and 106 Rescue wing will continue to conduct surface searches while the it had also sent two C-130 flights to search for the missing submersible.
Mr Harding’s cousin, Kathleen Cosnett, told The Daily Telegraph she saw Mr Harding as ‘daring’ and ‘inquisitive’, and that she was ‘devastated’ to learn he was missing.
On social media at the weekend, Mr Harding said he was ‘proud to finally announce’ he would be aboard the mission to the wreck of the Titanic, the luxury ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people.
OceanGate Expeditions said its focus was on those aboard the vessel and their families.
Harding posted to social media about being on the mission before launching the submarine
Colonel Terry Virts is a retired Nasa astronaut and a friend of the missing Hamish Harding
‘We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible,’ the company said in a statement.
‘We are working toward the safe return of the crew members.’
A court document filed by OceanGate in the US in April states that the submersible, named Titan, can dive to 13,120ft ‘with a comfortable safety margin’.
The vessel weighs 20,000lb, is made of ‘titanium and filament wound carbon fibre’ and has proven to ‘withstand the enormous pressures of the deep ocean’, OceanGate reportedly said.
The submersible was taking part in OceanGate’s third annual voyage to the monitor the decay of the ship’s wreckage, following expeditions in 2021 and 2022.