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Search underway for sub missing near Titanic wreck off Newfoundland

Search vessels and aircraft from the United States and Canada were scouring an area Monday south of Newfoundland for a small submersible reported missing during a dive to view the wreckage of the Titanic.
In this grab taken from a digital scan released by Atlantic/Magellan on Thursday, May 18, 2023, a view of the bow of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean is shown, created using deepsea mapping. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP- Atlantic/Magellan via AP

Search vessels and aircraft from the United States and Canada were scouring an area Monday south of Newfoundland for a small submersible reported missing during a dive to view the wreckage of the Titanic.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax confirmed in an email that it received a request from the U.S. Coast Guard shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday to help search for a submersible that had been reported overdue about 700 kilometres south of St. John’s, N.L.

Lt.-Cmdr. Len Hickey said an Aurora military aircraft and the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Kopit Hopson were assisting the search effort, which was being led by the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston. The U.S. Coast Guard said C-130 Hercules aircraft were also involved in the search along with a P-8 Poseidon aircraft, which has underwater detection capabilities.

Authorities said the five-person crew aboard the 6.4-metre vessel submerged Sunday morning and the surface launch ship Polar Prince lost contact with them about one hour and 45 minutes into the dive.

OceanGate Expeditions confirmed the search for its submersible and said it was “exploring all options” to bring the crew back safely.

“We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deepsea companies in our efforts to reestablish contact with the submersible,” the company said in a statement. “We are working toward the safe return of the crew members.”

David Concannon, an adviser to the company, confirmed the submersible had around 96 hours of oxygen on board.

“There are five people in the sub, two crew and three mission specialists,” Concannon said in an email. “Contact was lost as the sub was approaching the stern area of the Titanic. There is currently a multinational effort underway to bring assets to the wreck site that can perform a rescue mission.”

Rear Admiral John Mauger of the U.S. Coast Guard told a news conference late Monday that the operator reported an overdue submersible with five people on board on Sunday afternoon. The location is remote, and the fact that a submersible is involved adds to the complexity, he said, because searchers need to look on the surface and under water.

“Right now our (underwater) capability is limited to sonar buoys and listening for sounds, but you know we are working very hard to increase the capability,” Mauger said.

“We understand from the operator of the vessel that the vessel was designed with a 96-hour sustainment capability if there was an emergency on board, so we are using that time, making the best use of every moment of that time to locate the vessel.” He declined to identify the missing people.

The water is about 4,000 metres deep at the search location, which Mauger said is within the range of sonar.

The chief of a Newfoundland and Labrador First Nation that is part owner of the Polar Prince expressed hope that the submersible would be found. “They are waiting for a submersible to arrive (to assist) from the United States,” Miawpukek Chief Mi’sel Joe said. “All I can offer at this stage is prayers and more prayers that the people on board will come to the surface and be safe.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey tweeted that he is thinking of those affected and hopes searchers find “the sub and those on it very soon.”

“Newfoundland and Labrador has a long-standing connection with the wreck of the Titanic, with tourists departing our harbour to visit the site off our shores,” the premier said.

Memorial University’s marine institute said in a statement that it was made aware Monday that OceanGate had lost communications with its submersible Titan. The institute said that one of its students who has a summer job aboard the Polar Prince has been accounted for.

“We have no further information on the status of the submersible or personnel,” the institute said.

Action Aviation confirmed that its company chairman, U.K. businessman Hamish Harding, was one of the tourists on board. The company’s managing director, Mark Butler, told The Associated Press that the crew set out on Friday.

“Every attempt is being made for a rescue mission. There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event,” Butler said. “We’re all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound.”

In 2021, OceanGate Expeditions began what it expected to become an annual voyage to chronicle the deterioration of the ocean liner that struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing all but about 700 of the roughly 2,200 passengers and crew. Since the wreckage’s discovery in 1985, it has been slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria, and some have predicted the ship could vanish in a matter of decades.

In describing its first expedition, OceanGate said that in addition to archeologists and marine biologists, the expeditions would include roughly 40 paid tourists who would take turns operating sonar equipment and performing other tasks in the submersible.

The initial group of tourists was funding the expedition by spending anywhere from US$100,000 to US$150,000 apiece.

According to the company’s website, the tours are eight-day missions with the money raised by the fees going toward Titanic research. The submersible, which unlike a submarine needs a mother ship to launch and recover it, dives to a maximum depth of 3,800 metres, the site says.