Forty hours of 'breathable' air left on missing Titanic sub as underwater drones deployed in search

20 June 2023, 18:23 | Updated: 20 June 2023, 19:03

The final picture of the sub before it went missing. Top right, Shahzada Dawood and son Suleman. Bottom right billionaire Hamish Harding. (Inset) OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush
The final picture of the sub before it went missing. Top right, Shahzada Dawood and son Suleman. Bottom right billionaire Hamish Harding. (Inset) OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush. Picture: Alamy/Family Handout

By Jenny Medlicott

The missing submarine carrying five people to the wreck of the Titanic has “about 40 hours of air left ” the US coastguard has said amid an increasingly desperate search operation.

Remotely operated vehicles (ROV) have now been deployed to dive to the sub's last known location.

The coastguard said those on board now have around 40 or 41 hours of ‘breathable’ oxygen left. The vessel’s air tanks were carrying around 96 hours’ worth at the start of the dive.

Captain Frederick, speaking at a press conference in Boston this afternoon, said that the search is “very complex” as he issued his thoughts and prayers for the crew and their families as the search continues.

He said: “we will do everything in our power to effect a rescue" but stressed that they cannot yet make a plan as they must locate the sub first.

"We are out there, we are searching,” he added.

"If the sub is located, the experts will look at the best course of action for recovering the sub.

"It's 900 miles east of Cape Cod and 400 miles south of St John's. Logistically speaking it's hard to bring assets to bear, it takes time and coordination and we're dealing with a surface search and subsurface search and frankly that makes it an incredibly complex operation."

He also said they have searched 7,600 sq miles so far, an area larger than the size of Connecticut, but added “these search efforts have not yielded any results”.

The ROVs have been deployed to "the last known position of the Titan and the approximate position of the Titanic wreck".

Canadian aircraft are scheduled to fly this afternoon and this evening to the site, and "more capable assets” will be transported to the area at a later time.

Several private research vessels are also preparing to join the search.

David Mearns: 'it is the most hostile environment'

Shipwreck hunter, David Mearns told LBC’s Andrew Marr: “Any part of the deep ocean is a hostile environment, mainly due to the pressure, it’s unforgivable and the fact that you’re surrounded by water at all times.

“It is the most extreme hostile environment in the world and that’s before you start adding in the complexities of surface weather – and the North Atlantic is an extreme environment, there are very few times in the year when you can operate it.”

Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son Suleman, 19 are with British billionaire explorer Hamish Harding and two others on the tiny vessel that set off on Sunday to see the wreck of the Titanic.

As a huge search operation was launched with rescuers scouring an area the size of Connecticut, Mr Dawood’s family asked for people to send their prayers.

“Our son Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, had embarked on a journey to visit the remnants of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean. Contact has been lost with their submersible craft and there is limited information available,” a statement said.

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

Read more: 'Trapped... and no-one can reach them': Friend of billionaire on Oceangate Titanic submarine tells of her biggest fear

The final picture of the missing sub seen above water before the mission was launched
The final picture of the missing sub seen above water before the mission was launched. Picture: Twitter

“We are very grateful for the concern being shown by our colleagues and friends and would like to request everyone to pray for their safety while granting the family privacy at this time.

“The family is well looked after and are praying to Allah for the safe return of their family members.”

The last ‘ping’ from the sub was received yesterday afternoon above the wreck site. The submarine, which can hold up to five people paying $250,000 each for the trip, is estimated to have up to 96 hours of oxygen left, meaning the rescuers have a deadline of midday on Thursday to recover it. However there are growing fears if the vessel is stricken in the depths, it will be impossible to ever recover it.

British billionaire Hamish Harding is on board
British billionaire Hamish Harding is on board. Picture: Alamy

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

A major search and rescue operation, which is being led by the US Coast Guard and involving military aircraft 900 miles east of Cape Cod, was continuing on Tuesday.

The US Coast Guard said the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince and 106 Rescue wing will continue to conduct surface searches while the US Coast Guard sent two C-130 flights to search for the missing submersible.

Rear Admiral John W Mauger of the US Coast Guard said they are doing "everything" they can to find the submersible, saying it has one pilot and four mission specialists aboard with up to 96 hours of emergency oxygen on board.

Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman are on the submarine
Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman are on the submarine. Picture: World Economic Forum

"We anticipate that there's somewhere between 70 to the full 96 hours at this point," he said on Monday. "It is a remote area and a challenge, but we are deploying all available assets to make sure we can locate the craft and rescue the people onboard," he said.

Mark Butler, managing director of Action Aviation, said: "There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event. We're all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound."

Mr Harding holds three Guinness World Records, including the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel when in March 2021, he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush (L) is among the five people on board the stricken submarine
OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush (L) is among the five people on board the stricken submarine. Picture: Alamy

His cousin, Kathleen Cosnett, told The Daily Telegraph she saw Mr Harding as "daring" and "inquisitive", and that she was "devastated" to learn he was missing.

On social media at the weekend, he said he was "proud to finally announce" he would be aboard the mission to the wreck of the Titanic, the luxury ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people.

The Explorer's Club, of which Mr Harding is a founding member of, shared the news of his disappearance on Instagram with club president Richard Garriot saying: "When I saw Hamish last week... his excitement about this expedition was palpable," he said.

"I know he was looking forward to conducting research at the site. We all join in the fervent hope that the submersible is located as quickly as possible and the crew is safe."

OceanGate Expeditions said its focus was on those aboard the vessel and their families.

"We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible," the company said in a statement.

"We are working toward the safe return of the crew members."

A court document filed by OceanGate in the US in April states that the submersible, named Titan, can dive to 13,120ft "with a comfortable safety margin", Associated Press reported on Monday.

Titan weighs 20,000lb, is made of "titanium and filament wound carbon fibre" and has proven to "withstand the enormous pressures of the deep ocean", OceanGate reportedly said.

The submersible was taking part in OceanGate's third annual voyage to the monitor the decay of the ship's wreckage, following expeditions in 2021 and 2022.

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