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Why adventurers flocked to take OceanGate’s $250k Titantic expedition, before tragedy hit: ‘I was wowed’


A massive marine search and rescue operation is underway for a missing tourist sub that disappeared on an expedition to view the Titanic wreckage.

The OceanGate Expeditions vessel carrying a pilot, three paying passengers and a “content expert” was reported missing about 435 miles (700 kilometres) off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada on Sunday night.

The US and Canadian Coastguard are leading efforts to locate the submersible, which can reach depths of 4,000m and carries enough oxygen for the five onboard to survive for 96 hours.

British billionaire Hamish Harding is feared to be on board the vessel, according to stepson Brian Szasz.

OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush and renowned French underwater explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet are also feared to be among those onboard.

The company, which charges up to $250,000 to take guests to the Titanic site, has said it is “working toward the safe return of the crewmembers.”

The Titan, pictured, is a tourist sub operated by OceanGate

(OceanGate/YouTube)

“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 five-person Titan vessel submerged on Sunday morning from the Polar Prince icebreaker, and lost contact about one hour and 45 minutes into the dive, the US CoastGuard said.

It was reported overdue by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at 9.13pm on Sunday night.

Long-range military aircraft including the C130 are involved in the search.

What is OceanGate Expeditions?

OceanGate Expeditions was founded in Washington state in 2009 by US adventurer and former investment banker Stockton Rush.

The trained aerospace engineer began offering underwater tours in specially designed submersible vessels that were developed with NASA.

(AFP via Getty Images)

In an interview with The Independent in 2017, he said he had originally wanted to become an astronaut but was later drawn to underwater exploration.

“In the vacuum of space, by definition there is nothing. That means a great view, but the final frontier for new life forms and discovery is undersea – for the next 200-300 years at least.”

The RMS Titanic has been lying 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada in the North Atlantic Ocean since it sank in 1912, killing about 1,500 people on board.

The wreck was discovered in 1985, and was named a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2012.

It’s been a subject of fascination with deep-sea exploration teams ever since.

Voyaging to the Titanic wreck

In 2021, the company launched its first tour of the North Atlantic wreck site in the Titan, a five-person vessel made of carbon fibre and titanium that can reach depths of 4,000m.

The voyages depart from St Johns, in Newfoundland, Canada, on chartered ocean-faring ships.

For their latest expedition, OceanGate hired the Polar Prince, a medium duty icebreaker that was formerly operated by the Canadian Coast Guard, to ferry dozens of passengers and crew and the submersible craft to the wreck site.

The trip had been scheduled to depart in late May and finish up in late June, according to documents obtained by the AP from the US District Court in Virginia, which presides over the wreck site.

Titan’s viewport is “the largest of any deep diving submersible” and its technology provides an “unrivaled view” of the deep ocean.

The Titan can “withstand the enormous pressures of the deep ocean”, OceanGate said in the court documents.

The Titan’s first voyages to the Titanic wreck gave passengers an up-close glimpse of the world’s most famous shipwreck in its final stages of decay.

This map shows the approximate position of the wreck of the RMS Titanic

(Google Maps)

Footage captured from one expedition showed the famed bathtub in the captain’s quarters that was thought to have been lost to decay was, in fact, still intact.

It showed the ship’s disintegration continued due to salt corrosion, ocean undercurrents, and bacteria that was steadily devouring the shell.

The 2022 expedition featured five missions, each over several days and several dives that could last up to ten hours each.

Each of the dives included at least one scientist or content expert on each submersible to gather “archaeological and biological data” with the goal of understanding behaviour and rarity of life at such a depth while helping to predict the rate of decay of deeply submerged vessels, according to the OceanGate site.

Renata Rojas, who was one of the passengers onboard the 2022 expedition, told The Independent in an interview that seeing the Titanic up close was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

The Polar Prince ship is seen while moored in Vancouver, British Columbia

(AP)

“You’re feeling overwhelmed the entire time, not only because [of] just the fact that you were there … [but] as we were approaching the wreck, I was wowed. That was the feeling,” she said. Ms Rojas is currently on the Polar Prince.

Oceangate’s 2023 expedition was the third to the Titanic wreck site.

Along with taking visitors to the wreck, OceanGate Expeditions is conducting a longitudinal study of the Titanic’s rate of decay, through images, videos, laser and sonar data.

“Given the massive scale of the wreck and the debris field, multiple missions performed over several years will be required to fully document and model the wreck site,” OceanGate says on its website.

Mr Rush told The Independent in 2017 that the underwater tours were not for everyone.

Hamish Harding posted about his plans to travel to see the Titanic wreckage two days before the sub went missing

(Facebook/Hamish Harding)

“It’s not a chocolate-on-the-pillow job – you’re part of the crew,” he said. “If there’s an electric charge that needs moving in the middle of the night, we’ll grab you.”

Prior to launching the Titanic expeditions, Mr Rush said he had taken former Everest climbers, moviemakers and nautical archaeologists on underwater tours.

His oldest passenger was 92, and his youngest 12 in the four- or five-person vessels.

The OceanGate team have scientists, historians and ‘mission specialists’ who can pay to visit the site

(YouTube/OceanGate Expeditions)

French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, who is believed to be on board the missing vessel, told the Irish Examiner in a 2019 interview that the families of some victims of the Titanic were opposed to expeditions to the wreck.

The bodies of around 340 of the estimated 1,500 who lost their lives were recovered after it sank in 1912. He said that those lost at sea would have likely decomposed a long time ago, and he had never seen bodies in the wreckage’s debris field.

He told the news site that exploration of the wreck was about balancing the scientific interest with respect for the dead.




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