Teenage son killed in Titanic sub was 'terrified' about trip and 'only agreed to please his dad for Father's Day'

23 June 2023, 05:22 | Updated: 23 June 2023, 10:10

Suleman Dawood 'wasn't very up for the trip', his aunt has said
Suleman Dawood 'wasn't very up for the trip', his aunt has said. Picture: Handout/OceanGate

By Kit Heren

The teenage son of a British businessman killed when the Titan sub suffered a "catastrophic implosion" was "terrified" of the trip and only agreed to go to please his father, a relative has claimed.

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Suleman Dawood, 19, was one of the five people on board the sub, alongside his father, businessman Shahzada Darwood, billionaire Hamish Harding, Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions and 73-year-old French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet. They were trying to visit the wreckage of the Titanic deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

Suleman's aunt, Azmeh Dawood, said he "wasn't very up for it" and was "terrified" but went along with the trip as a favour to his father, who was fascinated by the Titanic wreckage.

Speaking before they were confirmed to have died, she said: "I am thinking of Suleman, who is 19, in there, just perhaps gasping for breath... It's been crippling, to be honest."

Ms Dawood told NBC: "Suleman had a sense that this was not okay and he was not very comfortable about doing it.

Read more: 'United in grief': Families of Titanic sub tourists pay tribute after group dies in 'catastrophic implosion' near wreck

Submersible lost on dive to Titanic suffered 'catastrophic implosion', say US Coast Guard

Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman were on the submarine
Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman were on the submarine. Picture: Handout

"But it was a Father's Day thing. It was a bonding experience and he wanted the adventure of a lifetime just like his father did.

"His father wanted it and that was Sule all the way - he'd do anything for anyone."

Shahzada had been interested in the Titanic since he was young, she said.

"It was his biggest wish, dream, everything.

"For Shahzada he fulfilled his dream in an extraordinary way.

"He's become part of the Titanic legend. I mean, in those terms, it could be nothing greater."

Hamish Harding was among the passengers
Hamish Harding was among the passengers. Picture: Alamy

The US Coast Guard confirmed on Thursday that all five passengers aboard the submersible Titan had died following a "catastrophic implosion".

The US Navy is understood to have detected “an acoustic anomaly consistent with an implosion” shortly after the Titan lost contact with the surface on Sunday.

They informed rescuers who were able to narrow down the radius of their search before uncovering a 'debris field' 500 metres (1,600ft) from the bow of the Titanic.

The devastated families paid tribute to their loved ones after their deaths were confirmed.

Mr Harding's family described him as a "passionate explorer" who lived life "for the next adventure" while the Dawood family thanked those involved in the rescue operations.

Paul-Henry Nargeolet
Paul-Henry Nargeolet. Picture: Video screengrab/Social media

Read more: All five passengers on missing Titanic submarine are ‘sadly lost’ says firm behind trip - as tributes paid to explorers

Read more: ‘It took far too long’: Family of Hamish Harding hit out at missing Titanic sub owner for not raising alarm fast enough

In a statement released by Mr Harding's company Action Aviation, the family said they were "united in grief with the other families who have also lost their loved ones".

"Hamish Harding was a loving husband to his wife and a dedicated father to his two sons, whom he loved deeply," they said.

"To his team in Action Aviation, he was a guide, an inspiration, a support, and a living legend.

"He was one of a kind and we adored him. He was a passionate explorer - whatever the terrain - who lived his life for his family, his business and for the next adventure.

"What he achieved in his lifetime was truly remarkable and if we can take any small consolation from this tragedy, it's that we lost him doing what he loved.

"He will leave a gap in our lives that can never be filled. We know that Hamish would have been immensely proud to see how nations, experts, industry colleagues and friends came together for the search and we extend our heartfelt thanks for all their efforts.

"On behalf of the Harding family and Action Aviation, we would like to politely request privacy at this incredibly difficult time."

Stockton Rush
Stockton Rush. Picture: Handout

The Dawood family also released a statement saying: “It is with profound grief that we announce the passing of Shahzada and Suleman Dawood".

They went on to say: "Please continue to keep the departed souls and our family in your prayers during this difficult period of mourning.

"We are truly grateful to all those involved in the rescue operations. Their untiring efforts were a source of strength for us during this time.

"We are also indebted to our friends, family, colleagues, and well-wishers from all over the world who have stood by us during our hour of need.

"The immense love and support we receive continues to help us to endure this unimagineable loss.

"We extend our heartfelt condolenseces to the families of the other passengers on the Titan submersible."

Submersible lost on dive to Titanic suffered 'catastrophic implosion' – US Coast Guard

Explorers Club president Richard Garriott de Cayeux has also paid tribute to the five people lost on board the Titan submersible.

In a statement on Twitter, he said: "Our hearts are broken. I am so sorry to have to share this tragic news.

"Our friends and fellow Explorers club members Hamish Harding and Paul-Henri Nargeolet are lost, along with Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, while trying to reach the RMS Titanic."

The US coast guard gave an update on Thursday evening
The US coast guard gave an update on Thursday evening. Picture: Video screengrab

He added: "Hamish Harding is a dear friend to me personally and to the Explorers Club. He holds several world records and has continued to push dragons off maps both in person and through supporting expeditions and worthy causes.

"Paul-Henri was elected to the Club in 2001 and was one of the foremost experts on submersible expeditions to the Titanic. They were both drawn to explore, like so many of us, and did so in the name of meaningful science for the betterment of mankind.

"They pushed themselves in their entrepreneurial pursuits as they did in exploration."

Undersea expert Paul Hankin said five major pieces of debris helped to identify it as from the Titan submersible - including the vessel's nose cone and the front end bell of the pressure hull.

According to court documents, safety concerns had previously been raised about the Titan submersible by a former employee of Oceangate.

The filings said David Lochridge, Oceangate's former director of marine operations, claimed wrongful dismissal after flagging worries about the company's alleged "refusal to conduct critical, non-destructive testing of the experimental design".

Court papers suggest Mr Lochridge "identified numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns" but he was allegedly "met with hostility and denial of access" to necessary documents before later being fired.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly described the update as "tragic news" and said the UK Government is closely supporting the British families affected.

The White House said the families of those who died had "been through a harrowing ordeal over the past few days, and we are keeping them in our thoughts and prayers."

Pakistan's foreign ministry paid tribute to the Dawood family, tweeting: "Our deepest condolences to the Dawood family and the family of other passengers on the sad news about the fate of Titanic (sic) submersible in the North Atlantic.

"We appreciate the multinational efforts over the last several days in search of the vessel."