'It's get to the surface or die': Lost Titanic submarine went missing for over two hours on expedition last year

20 June 2023, 12:22 | Updated: 21 June 2023, 15:17

The Titan got lost on an earlier trip
The Titan got lost on an earlier trip. Picture: OceanGate

By Kit Heren

The Titan submersible that has gone missing while on a descent to the wreck of the Titanic got lost on a trip last year, with a journalist who was on board saying: "There's no backup, there's no escape pod - it's get to the surface or die."

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The 670cm-long ship was on a similar voyage to the current trip, which has sparked a huge search, when it got lost in the summer of 2022 for over two-and-a-half hours.

The Titan does not have GPS on board, so it is guided by operatives on the surface, who send text messages via a USBL (ultra-short baseline) acoustic system.

But communications broke down on one of the summer 2022 trips, meaning it got lost for two and a half hours. The difference with the current trip is that in 2022, the Titan eventually went back to the surface.

That expedition was joined by David Pogue, a reporter for CBS, who pointed out the similarities between the current situation and his experience.

Read more: Titanic tourists' best hope: Only rescue ship capable of winching sub to safety joins desperate hunt for Titan

Crew inside Titan on a previous trip
Crew inside Titan on a previous trip. Picture: OceanGate

“You may remember that the @OceanGateExped sub to the #Titanic got lost for a few hours LAST summer, too, when I was aboard," Mr Pogue said on Twitter.

In a video report Mr Pogue produced on his trip, passenger Shrenik Baldota is heard saying: "We were lost. We were lost for two and a half hours."

Asked on Monday night if the five people on the current trip could survive, Mr Pogue said: "Communication with the sub is lost... AND they don’t know where it is.

"Yes, they could still be OK. They have 4 days of oxygen, and 7 ways to rise to the surface. The question is, why HAVEN’T they?"

“There’s no backup, there’s no escape pod - it’s get to the surface or die,” he told the BBC.

"The main centre section looks like a shiny white tube about minivan length. It's made of five inch thick carbon fibre which no one has ever used in a submersible before," he told Unsung Science. 

"At each end of the white tube is a tiny silver dome. The front end cap has a 22-inch round window made of seven-inch thick plexiglass so you can see out. When you get to the bottom of the ocean - that's your view of the Titanic. 

"If you have to go to the bathroom you can crawl into the window end of the sub and hang up a black cloth for privacy. There's a one foot square box on the floor that contains Ziploc bags. 

"There are a couple of touchscreen PC monitors on the floor of the sub but there are no controls. The multi-million sub is controlled with a games controller." 

Mr Pogue said it would be impossible for those inside it now to escape without help.

Read more: Inside the Titan submersible lost on Titanic trip: cramped 670cm-long tube is steered by PlayStation controls

Read more: Race against time: Titanic sub search has hours to find missing explorers as experts warn of difficult rescue mission

The Titan on the surface
The Titan on the surface. Picture: OceanGate

It is unclear what exactly the problem was on the 2022 trip, and if operating company OceanGate fixed it.

The Titan went missing on Sunday, about 12,500ft below the waves and 435 miles from Newfoundland.

Five passengers were onboard, UK billionaire Hamish Harding, two Pakistanis - Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman - Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, as well as 73-year-old French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet.

Rescuers say it could take as long as two days to get to the bottom of the sea if the submersible sank.If the submersible has sunk too far, it could be beyond the reach of help, professor of marine engineering at University College London Alistair Greig said.

Read more: 'We have to move now!': Vital equipment needed to rescue Titanic submersible 'stuck on tarmac due to US bureaucracy'

Read more: 'They've been waiting for this': Last text sent by British billionaire onboard missing Titanic submarine to friend revealed

The Titan being launched
The Titan being launched. Picture: OceanGate

"If it has gone down to the seabed and can't get back up under its own power, [the] options are very limited.

"While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers."

The effort could to find the Titan could also be hampered by conditions in the area the Titan vanished. Waves can get as high as six feet and visibility is bad. And the Titanic rests in a challenging part of the ocean bed too.

Hamish Hardwood, Paul-Henri Nargeolet, Shahaza Darwood and Stockton Rush are all missing
Hamish Hardwood, Paul-Henri Nargeolet, Shahaza Darwood and Stockton Rush are all missing. Picture: Social media

Chris Parry, a retired Royal Navy rear admiral, said: "Titanic herself lies in a trench. Theres lots of debris around.

"So trying to differentiate with sonar in particular and trying to target the area you want to search in with another submersible is going to be very difficult indeed."

OceanGate adviser David Concannon warned the rescue timeframe is tight and that vital equipment has been held "on the tarmac" in Guernsey because of bureaucratic red tape.