It’s like something from a horror film – five men trapped inside a tiny 22ft tube with a single window and no seats, thousands of feet below sea level with no way of reaching the outside world.
Those onboard, including British billionaire and explorer Hamish Harding, will have to contend with the cramped conditions – all while not being able to see beyond the black depths of the ocean from the single window.
They don’t just have to contend with the claustrophobic conditions in the vessel, which includes a toilet that only has a curtain for privacy, but also a dwindling supply of oxygen and the risk of hypothermia.
Assuming that the vessel is still intact, they currently have no communication to the outside world, and so no knowledge if and when anyone will reach them.
The US Coast Guard is leading the search for the small craft, named Titan, in the North Atlantic Ocean where it vanished on Sunday. Shahzada Dawood, 48, a board member of the Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, were also on board the vessel when it vanished.
Thanks to previous reports on the Titan’s deep-sea missions, we have a clear idea of what it is like for those trapped inside the submarine, where time is running out.
A desperate search is currently underway for a 22-foot deep-sea vessel (shown in this graphic) that went missing with five people on board as it dove towards the wreck site of the Titanic, who are now cut off from the world in claustrophobic conditions
A desperate search is currently underway for a 22-foot deep-sea vessel that went missing with five people on board as it dove towards the wreck site of the Titanic, who are now cut off from the world in claustrophobic conditions
There are no seats and only one toilet – a small black box – with a black curtain drawn across for privacy. All passengers are barefoot and must sit on the floor.
The five crew members, including French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet and OceanGate chief executive Stockton Rush, were on board the 22ft craft taking paying tourists to view the wreck 12,500ft under water when they lost signal in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, on Sunday.
Their desperate family, including Shahzada’s wife Christine and daughter Alina, are now enduring an agonising wait for any news of the pair – hoping in vain that they could somehow be found thousands of feet underwater before the oxygen onboard runs out in around 45 hours.
But former Royal Navy commander Ryan Ramsey, 53, today warned there is ‘no way’ of rescuing the crew if the tiny craft is still thousands of feet under the sea because the technology required ‘doesn’t exist’.
However, the vessel could well be floating on the surface of the water, meaning it will be easier for rescue crews to locate the submarine before the air runs out.
The submersible, a ‘Cyclops-2’ model named Titan, is the second Cyclops model built by OceanGate – after the Cyclops-1.
It is capable of diving to a depth of 2.4 miles ‘with a comfortable safety margin,’ OceanGate said in a filing by the company in April with a US District Court in Virginia that oversees Titanic matters.
Titan weighs 20,000 pounds in the air, but is ballasted to be neutrally buoyant once it reaches the seafloor, the company said.
It was revealed yesterday that tourists who pay $250,000 to descend almost 13,000 feet below sea level to view the wreck of the Titanic must sign a waiver saying they accept the submersible is not approved by any regulatory body,.
In a May 2021 court filing, OceanGate said the Titan had an ‘unparalleled safety feature’ that assesses the integrity of the hull throughout every dive.
‘This onboard health analysis monitoring system provides early warning detection for the pilot with enough time to arrest the descent and safely return to surface,’ the company explains on its website.
While it is therefore likely the submarine is still intact, the missing submersible is a small vessel only designed to hold five people for a single day.
Typically, journeys would involved a two-hour dive, several hours exploring the titanic, and then a two-hour return trip back to the surface. In total, dives can last up to 10 hours each.
The craft carrying the five crew members was pictured leaving port in St. John’s in Canada last week. The submersible was seen being towed by the mothership MV Polar Prince out to sea to the wreckage site.
But hours after the final images were taken, the submarine descended to the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean to view the wreck 12,500ft underwater before losing all communication with the Polar Prince – 350 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
The sub, owned and operated by OceanGate Expeditions, had launched at around 4am on Sunday and was taking the crew 12,500ft under water as part of its £195,000-a-head tour of the 1912 shipwreck.
But the crew lost communication with the sub’s mothership MV Polar Prince an hour and 45 minutes into the two-hour descent and there is now a desperate search to find the vessel and those on board before the air runs out.
Inside, the passengers will be contesting with cramped conditions. The craft measures 22 feet in length, with a width of 9.5 feet – and has the appearance from the outside of a shiny metal tube – with no ‘door’ to get in and out
Pictured: A file photo shows the cramped conditions faced by passengers inside the vessel
The state-of-the-art pressure vessel – a carbon-composite cylinder – is necessary for any submersible making a dive to the depths of the Titanic due to the water pressure. Here, Astronaut Scott Parazynski can be seen making a journey in the submarine (file photo)
While the search had initially focused on the surface of the water, the team of rescuers are now expanding their search into deeper waters, said US Coast Guard First District Commander Rear Adm. John Mauger.
The pipelay vessel, named Deep Energy, has also arrived at the Titanic wreckage site so that its crew can search the seafloor using cameras.
France will also send a ship equipped with a deep-sea diving vessel to help the search-and-rescue operation.
The ship, called the Atalante, is managed by the Ifremer research institute. Ifremer said it had been contacted on Monday by the U.S. Navy with a request for help.
‘It carries the Victor 6000 autonomous robot, capable of descending to a depth of 6,000 metres, beyond the 3,800 metres of the wreck’s position’, Ifremer said, adding the ship was expected to arrive on the site by Wednesday evening local time.
The submarine has now been lost for around two days.
Inside, the passengers will be contesting with cramped conditions. The craft measures 22 feet in length, with a width of 9.5 feet – and has the appearance from the outside of a shiny metal. It has two separate titanium hemispherical domes at each end, the front one featuring an integrated 380-mm-diameter acrylic viewport.
There is no ‘door’ to get in and out of the vessel.
Instead, the passengers are bolted in from the outside before their journey begins with 17 bolts, which begins with the Titan being launched from a recovery platform, which has tanks used to sink and resurface the vessel.
At the conclusion of each dive, the sub is then meant to land on the submerged platform again, and the entire system is brought to the surface in approximately two minutes by filling the ballast tanks with air.
Inside, there are no seats, and passengers sit cross-legged on the floor having left their shoes on the mothership before entering the sub.
While the craft features advanced technology, the space for passengers is mostly bare. There is just one button – to turn the sub on, screens on the wall and a small porthole window at the front for viewing the ocean depths and – should the mission be a success – the Titanic’s wreck outside.
The pilot operates the craft with a modified Logitech gaming controller – complete with twin thumbsticks and four colourful buttons, that allows the operator to direct the submarine up and down, left and right, and forwards and backwards.
According to the company, the Titan is also ‘outfitted with state-of-the-art lighting and sonar navigation systems plus internally and externally mounted 4K video and photographic equipment’.
CBS correspondent David Pogue is seen inside the submersible, which he described as very basic
The journalist holding up a modified Logitech games controller that is used to control the sub
The sub’s electronics and thruster control pods are housed outside the pressure hull to increase the space that is available for crew and equipment onboard.
As for the facilities, the submersible is limited. There is a single toilet (which is more of a one-foot square black box on the floor with plastic containers and zip-lock bags inside) situated at the front of the vessel, under the small window.
According to the OceanGate website – which is no longer accessible – the toilet ‘doubles as the best seat the house.’
It adds that a small black privacy curtain is installed when the toilet is in use, and that the other passengers ‘turn the music up loud.’
It was recommended that passengers limit their diet before setting off on an expedition ‘to reduce the likelihood that you will need the facilities.’
It was not immediately clear what was taken on board in terms of supplies.
Speaking to BBC news, CBS reporter David Pogue – who took a trip of the submarine himself – said he was had some doubts over getting in due to ‘improvised’ elements.
‘It’s a one-of-a-kind submersible, with five-inch thick carbon fiber,’ he explained.
‘I have to admit I had some qualms getting on that thing, because a lot of the components are off-the-shelf, improvised – for example you steer the sub with a game controller [like] an Xbox controller.
‘Some of the ballast is abandoned construction pipes that are sitting on shelves on the side of the thing, and the way you detach the ballast is you get everybody ob-board to lean to one side of the sub and they roll off,’ he explained.
Despite these more rudimentary elements, he said that the most important features of the sub, such as its shell, are state of the art.
‘The CEO and inventor of the sub, Stockton Rush, reassured me that all of that stuff might be a little improvised, but the part you care about – the capsule that contains people and Oxygen – was co-designed with NASA and the University of Washington, and it’s rock solid,’ Pogue explained.
When he spoke to Rush for a broadcast in November 2022, Pogue put it to the CEO that the vessel had the feel of a ‘MacGyver jerry-rigged’ invention.
Shahzada Dawood, 48, a board member of the Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, (pictured together) are on board the missing submarine
Sulaiman Dawood, 19, who is missing on board the submarine is pictured with his mother Christine
Shahzada Dawood, 48, (pictured with his wife Christine) a UK-based board member of the Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, are amongst the five people missing in the submarine that set off to see the wreck of the Titanic, it was revealed today
Among those taking part in the expedition is billionaire Hamish Harding (pictured), CEO of Action Aviation in Dubai. He excitedly posted to social media about being there on Sunday
French Navy veteran PH Nargeolet (left) is believed to be taking part in the expedition, along with Stockton Rush (right), CEO of the OceanGate Expedition
This was after Rush had explained he had got some parts for the interior off-the-shelf, such as the LED overhead lighting, which he said was from ‘Camper World’.
However, Rush said that once you’re certain that the submarine isn’t going to ‘collapse on everybody, everything else can fail. It doesn’t matter. Your thrusters can go, your lights can go, you’re still going to be safe.’
The state-of-the-art pressure vessel – a carbon-composite cylinder – is necessary for any submersible making a dive to the depths of the Titanic.
Lying under 12,500 feet of war, the water pressure at the wreck site of the famous ocean liner is nearly 6,000 psi (pounds per square inch).
Any vessel not able to withstand the pressure would be crushed, allowing water to flood inside. No human body could survive such pressure without the protection of a submersible such as the Titan.
Rescue crews from the US and Canada are now trying to find the vessel, which is understood to have last ‘pinged’ whilst directly above the Titanic wreck, before the air onboard runs out. It is believed the submarine has enough oxygen to last under water until 12pm on Thursday UK time (7am EST).
Ramsey, from Oxford, said he feared that it was unlikely the vessel, if it has suffered a catastrophic failure, would ever be recovered. Indeed, the US Coast Guard today said its crews were searching an area roughly the size Connecticut – which is similar to that of Northern Ireland.
‘It’s probably imploded by now,’ he added. ‘The pressures at that depth are absolutely huge. If there’s a fault in any part of that submarine or any crack then quickly the pressure takes hold and crushes it.’
People inside a Titan taking photos of the wreckage on their smartphones through a round window at the front
A view of the famous wreck taken from one of OceanGate’s subs
At the conclusion of each dive, the sub is then meant to land on the submerged recovery platform (seen here carrying the submarine), and the entire system is brought to the surface in approximately two minutes by filling the ballast tanks with air
Visitors were warned that the sub ‘has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, emotional trauma, or death’
And due to the conditions, those on-board will also be facing dropping temperatures and risk hypothermia, according to David Gallo, a senior adviser for Strategic Initiatives, RMS Titanic.
Speaking to CNN, Gallo said hypothermia would be an issue ‘if the sub is still at the bottom, because in the deep ocean it is just above freezing cold.’
He said: ‘One of the biggest things is where is it? Is it on the bottom, is it floating, is it mid-water? That is something that has not been determined yet … We will have to wait and see and hope for the best.’
He said even if the vessel is located, any rescue team faces immense challenges – concurring with other rescuers who spoke on Monday.
‘The water is very deep – 2 miles plus. It’s like a visit to another planet, it’s not what people think it is. It is a sunless, cold environment and high pressure,’ he explained.
He struck a hopeful note about whether or not the vessel could have moved at such a depth. ‘A sub will not go very far. If it has gotten into trouble on the surface it might drift a bit, but on the bottom motoring – 2 miles an hour, something like that.
‘So the search area should be small,’ Gallo told CNN.
The desperate families of those on board – Shahzada Dawood and his son Sulaiman, Mr Harding, Mr Nargeolet and Mr Rush – are now desperately waiting for news of their loved ones.
British businessman Mr Harding, who lives in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, was one of the mission specialists on board the vessel, according to Action Aviation, a company for which Mr Harding serves as chairman.
Mr Harding is a billionaire adventurer who holds three Guinness World Records, including the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel. In March 2021, he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
Action Aviation’s managing director Mark Butler said: ‘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.’
But with less than 52 hours of air left between five crew members until Thursday, Rear Admiral John W. Mauger said that the US Coast Guard is working ‘as hard as possible’ to find it while ‘lives are at risk’.
The crew members had descended into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to see the wreck of the Titanic.
The Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in 1912 during its maiden voyage from England to New York with 2,224 passengers and crew on board. More than 1,500 people died.
The wreckage is in two main pieces 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, some 13,000 feet underwater. It was found in 1985 and remains a source of fascination and a lure for nautical experts and underwater tourists.
Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, said submersibles typically have a drop weight, which is ‘a mass they can release in the case of an emergency to bring them up to the surface using buoyancy.’
‘If there was a power failure and/or communication failure, this might have happened, and the submersible would then be bobbing about on the surface waiting to be found,’ Greig said.
Another scenario is a leak in the pressure hull, in which case the prognosis is not good, he said. ‘If it has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, options are very limited,’ Greig said.
‘While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers.’
Photos of the tiny underwater craft leaving the port in St. John’s in Canada with the five crew members on board were revealed (pictured)
The 22ft submarine was seen being towed by the mothership MV Polar Prince out to sea to the wreckage site of the Titanic
Even if they could go that deep, he doubts they could attach to the hatch of OceanGate’s submersible.
‘The clock is ticking, and any submariner/submersible deep divers know how unforgiving the Abyssal domain is: going undersea is as, if not more, challenging than going into space from an engineering perspective,’ said University of Adelaide associate professor Eric Fusil in a statement.
CBS reporter Pogue, who went on the trip last year, noted his vessel got turned around looking for the Titanic.
‘There’s no GPS underwater, so the surface ship is supposed to guide the sub to the shipwreck by sending text messages,’ Pogue said in a segment aired on CBS. ‘But on this dive, communications somehow broke down. The sub never found the wreck.’