A day without contact and crew members aboard. Missing Titanic shipwreck sub faces race against time

A submersible used to take tourists to view the Titanic shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean went missing off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, on Monday morning.

In a press conference on Monday afternoon, Rear Admiral John Mauger, commander of the First US Coast Guard District, confirmed there was a search and rescue operation underway in the North Atlantic Ocean.

“We are doing everything that we can do to make sure that we can locate and rescue those on board,” Mr Mauger said.

The vessel, owned by OceanGate Expeditions, takes paying tourists to tour the Titanic shipwreck, among other deep-sea expeditions.

Five people are aboard, the Coast Guard confirmed.

Here’s everything we know so far.

What happened?

On Monday morning, reports emerged that a commercial submersible had gone missing in the North Atlantic Ocean near the Titanic shipwreck.

The vessel is operated by OceanGate Expeditions – a commercial operation that deploys paying crew for deep-sea expeditions. The company offers individuals the opportunity to explore the Titanic shipwreck for $250,000 each.

On Sunday (18 June), the submersible began its excursion to the Titanic with the research vessel the Polar Prince. But just one hour and 45 minutes into its launch, the two vessels lost connection.

The US Coast Guard was notified of the missing watercraft and its five people on board on Sunday. Shortly after, they launched a search and rescue mission.

“The @USCG is searching for a 21-foot submersible from the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince,” the Coast Guard tweeted on Monday.

Several other authorities including the Canadian Coast Guard and Canadian Armed Forces provided resources to the US Coast Guard in the search for the missing watercraft.

In a statement provided to CBS News, OceanGate said: “Our entire focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible and their families.”

OceanGate added that they are “deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to establish contact with the submersible.”

The Independent has reached out to OceanGate Expeditions for comment.

Where did it go missing?

It is unclear where exactly the sub went missing but the Coast Guard said it was searching 900 miles east of Cape Code, Massachusettes.

It is somewhere near the Titanic shipwreck which sits approximately 12,500 feet at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It is about 380 nautical miles south of Newfoundland, Canada and 1,240 nautical miles east of New York City.

The Titanic’s coordinates are 41º43’32”N, 49º56’49”W.

The Coast Guard said they were searching in water depth of “roughly 13,000 feet.”

“It is a remote area and it is a challenge to conduct a search in that remote area but we are deploying all available assets to make sure we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board,” Mr Mauger said.

To help aid in the search, the US Coast Guard deployed two C-130 aircraft with another from New York on the way and Canada sent a C-130 and P8 aircraft.

“Adding to the complexity of this case is the fact that this was a submersible vessel so we need to make sure we are looking both on the surface … and in the water,” Mr Mauger said.

The Coast Guard also launched sonar buoys and ships equipped with sonar technology to try to locate the missing watercraft.

Who was on board?

The Coast Guard confirmed they were searching for five people but declined to identify the people by name.

One of those believed to be on board is a British billionaire explorer.

Hamish Harding, who has previously travelled on the Challenger Deep to the bottom of the ocean and on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin into space, took to Facebook on Saturday to announce that he was joining OceanGate Expeditions for its Titanic mission this week.

He has not posted online since.

On Monday – as news of the missing submersible broke – Mr Harding’s stepson Brian Szasz confirmed that his stepfather was on board the vessel when it went missing.

“Hamish Harding my step father has gone missing on submarine thoughts and prayers,” he wrote on Facebook, sharing family photos and articles.

“Thoughts and prayers for my Mom and Hamish Harding,” he added.

In a follow-up post, he added: “Thoughts and prayers for my stepfather Hamish Harding as his Submarine has gone missing exploring Titanic. Search and rescue mission is underway.”

Larry Daley, a St John’s-based diver who made the trip to the Titanic 20 years ago, told CBC News he knows one of the people on the expedition, French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Mr Nargolet spent 25 years in the French navy and worked with Mr Daley on his first Titanic dive.

OceanGate offers excursions to shipwrecks and other deep-sea voyages for paying customers. In recent years, trips to view the Titanic shipwreck have become increasingly popular.

The Titanic sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg while on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York, New York. Of the 2,200 people onboard, more than 1,500 died.

The US passed the Titanic Maritime Memorial Act in 1986, marking the RMS Titanic as an international maritime memorial, allowing for reasonable research, exploration and appropriate salvage activities.

So long as the research or exploration does not alter or disturb the Titanic, people may view it or research it.

The company’s statement to CBS only included the mention of crewmembers. They did not clarify whether or not there were paying customers aboard the sub.

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