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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Rescuers estimate missing Titanic tour sub has 40 hours of air left

A photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions in 2021 showing the company’s Titan submersible. It is now missing.

By Mike Ives and John Ismay

The U.S. Coast Guard was racing against time Tuesday and facing a host of extreme logistical challenges, including crushing pressure deep below the ocean, to find a deep-diving submersible and its five-person crew in the North Atlantic.

The submersible, the Titan, had been in the area to explore the wreck of the Titanic when it lost contact Sunday morning with a chartered research ship at the dive site. At the time, the 22-foot-long vessel was more than halfway into what should have been a 2 1/2-hour dive.

The submersible is thought to be equipped with only a few days’ worth of oxygen, and as of 1 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday there was probably about 40 hours of breathable air left, said Capt. Jamie Frederick of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Frederick added that an area larger than Connecticut was being searched, but those efforts “have not yielded any results” and more ships and aircraft were heading to the site.

Even if the Titan can be located — in a remote patch of ocean where the seafloor lies more than 2 miles below the choppy surface — retrieving it will not be easy. That is partly because even the best divers cannot safely go more than a few hundred feet below the surface.

To recover objects off the seafloor, the U.S. Navy uses a remote-operated vehicle that can reach depths of 20,000 feet. But ships that carry such a vehicle normally move no faster than about 20 mph, and the Titanic wreck lies about 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Here’s what to know:

— Four of the five people in the craft have been identified so far. They are Hamish Harding, a British businessperson and explorer; British-Pakistani businessperson Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman; and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French maritime expert who has been on over 35 dives to the Titanic wreck site.

— The Titan submersible is operated by OceanGate Expeditions, a company that has provided tours of the Titanic wreck since 2021 — for a price of up to $250,000 per person — as part of a booming high-risk travel industry. OceanGate has described the trip on its website as a “thrilling and unique travel experience.”

— The occupants of the submersible were headed to the site of one of history’s most famous shipwrecks. The Titanic sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg while sailing to New York from Britain on its first voyage, killing about 1,500 people. For explorers, the Titanic was the holy grail of shipwrecks until it was discovered on the seafloor in 1985. Even now the level of public interest in the tragedy — and pernicious misinformation about it — remains very high.

— Many other details — why the submersible lost contact with the research vessel, and whether it is capable of transmitting a distress signal — were not clear as of Tuesday morning.

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