The five-person tourist submersible that’s at the center of an ongoing search and rescue effort after being reported missing while on an exploration trip to the wreck of the Titanic is capable of diving to depths more than two miles deep and is operated by a video game-style controller.
OceanGate Expedition’s submersible, known as Titan, lost contact on Sunday morning about an hour and 45 minutes after it departed from its launch ship, the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince, according to the Coast Guard. The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards are participating in the search and rescue effort and are being aided by other vessels in the area of the Titanic wreck located about 370 miles south-by-southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and 900 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
OceanGate’s website states that the Titan can accommodate five people aboard, including one crew member to pilot the submersible and four “mission specialists.”
The U.S. Coast Guard said five people are aboard the vessel. The company uses the sub for research and commercial missions, in addition to exploratory missions with tourists who pay $250,000 apiece to see the Titanic’s final resting place. Titan was on its fifth expedition to the Titanic this year.
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According to the company, the sub has life support capabilities that can last up to 96 hours for a crew of 5. The submersible is reportedly designed with means of surfacing if it encounters technical problems, although if it suffered a catastrophic failure it may have failed to do so.
“We are exploring and mobilizing all options to bring the crew back safely,” OceanGate said in a statement. “Our entire focus is on the crewmembers 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. We are working toward the safe return of the crewmembers.”
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The Titan is designed to handle depths of up to 4,000 meters, or 13,123 feet, which is necessary to reach the Titanic which lies on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean at a depth of about 12,500 feet.
Its pressure hull is made of carbon fiber and titanium, giving the submersible a total weight of about 21,000 pounds and a payload capacity of 1,510 pounds.
OceanGate wrote on its website that Titan utilizes “proprietary Real Time Hull Health Monitoring (RTM) systems” that provide an “unparalleled safety feature that assesses the integrity of the hull throughout every dive.”
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Titan moves at a top speed of about 3 knots and the process of descending to the depths of the Titanic wreck, exploring, and ascending back to the surface can take eight hours or more.
The Titan is controlled by a video game-like controller with buttons, joysticks and gamepads. Backup controllers are kept aboard the vessel, OceanGate founder Stockton Rush said in a December 2022 report by CBS Sunday Morning. The submersible does not have an onboard GPS system and takes directions from the surface vessel it launched from.
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The submersible has been described as experimental. In the CBS report, correspondent David Pogue read from a waiver prior to accompanying other passengers on a dive in the submersible.
Pogue said the form referred to Titan as, “An experimental submersible vessel that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma or death.”
The initial attempt to find the Titanic on Pogue’s trip was scrubbed due to poor weather and high seas. A second trip was thwarted by a launch malfunction, while the crew and surface vessel were unable to locate the wreck on the third effort before successfully observing the Titanic on their fourth try.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.
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