UK billionaire and French explorer among five onboard missing Titanic submersible 12,500 feet below sea

20 June 2023, 05:23 | Updated: 20 June 2023, 11:31

Hamish Harding is onboard the missing submersible
Hamish Harding is onboard the missing submersible. Picture: Alamy/OceanGate/Instagram

By Kit Heren

A British billionaire is one of five tourists on board a submersible used to look at the wreck of the Titanic that has gone missing.

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OceanGate Expeditions, a private company that organises deep sea expeditions to view the wreck, confirmed in a statement that one of their submersibles - named Titan - had vanished.

One of the five tourists are on board the missing sub, which takes passengers 12,500 feet below the surface, is UK billionaire Hamish Harding.

Mr Harding's stepson Brian Szasz said on Facebook: "Thoughts and prayers for my stepfather Hamish Harding as his Submarine has gone missing exploring Titanic.

"Search and rescue mission is underway."

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Hamish Harding is onboard the vessel
Hamish Harding is onboard the vessel. Picture: Getty

The submarine launched at about 4am on Sunday, and had enough oxygen to last roughly until midday on Thursday.

Its last 'ping' - which identifies its location - was about 3pm UK time on Monday, one hour and 45 minutes after it launched, and showed the Titan was directly above the wreckage itself, 900 miles off the north-eastern US coast.

The pings are supposed to be sent to its mother ship every 15 minutes.

Other people on board the £195,000 per-person trip are OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, French explorer Paul Henry Nargeolet and the Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman.

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French explorer PH Nargeolet is also thought to be onboard
French explorer PH Nargeolet is also thought to be onboard. Picture: Instagram
Stockton Rush is thought to be onboard the vessel
Stockton Rush is thought to be onboard the vessel. Picture: OceanGate

Meanwhile a friend of Mr Harding, Jannicke Mikkelsen, a Norwegian explorer, said she knew he would stay "calm" even during the crisis.

"My biggest fear is knowing that they are trapped, without being able to get help," Ms Mikkelsen said.

"There is no one who can reach him on the bottom."

G. Michael Harris, a Titanic expedition leader, said he knew several of those on board, and the outlook was grim.

He told Fox News's Jesse Watters that there was some oxygen supply on board but that he was "just not feeling good about it," he said.

This is the last sighting of the submersible shared by Mr Harding's company
This is the last sighting of the submersible shared by Mr Harding's company. Picture: Facebook

"When we deploy it's usually a two and a half hour drop down to the wreck site itself," He said.

"We go down 3,980 meters. We spiral down, a corkscrew action, about three degrees per second to land right basically in front of the bow of Titanic.

"Once we get down there we begin our grid searches and our decay and everything that goes on with Titanic."

Speaking at a press conference on Monday evening, Rear Admiral John W Mauger of the US Coast Guard said the force were doing "everything" to find the five people, adding that they were conducting a search 900 miles east of Cape Cod in collaboration with the Canadian armed forces and commercial vessels in the area.

"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.

Mr Mauger said that oxygen supplies in the submarine would last "somewhere between 70 to the full 96 hours at this point."

He said the sub may have become stuck in the wreckage and, if that is the case, the Coast Guard cannot reach it. An unmanned vessel would have to be sent, which can reach a depth of 20,000 feet.

Billionaire Mr Harding posted on social media on Sunday that a ‘window’ had opened up that would allow the dive to go ahead.

"We started steaming from St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada yesterday and are planning to start dive operations around 4am tomorrow morning," he said.

"Until then we have a lot of preparations and briefings to do."

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Meanwhile, a Titanic veteran diver said he had been due to be on the missing submersible and has since been called to assist with the search.

David Concannon said he had to cancel "to attend to another urgent client matter".

"Last night, I was called and asked to provide whatever assistance I could to ensure the safe return of everyone in the sub," Mr Concannon wrote on a page called Titanic Book Club.

"Of course, I immediately agreed."

The Titanic wreck in the Atlantic
The Titanic wreck in the Atlantic. Picture: Getty

The Titanic's wreck lies more than 12,000ft below the surface, about 370 miles off Newfoundland.

Tourists can pay for submersibles to take them to the remains, but this can cost more than £90,000.

OceanGate Expeditions charges up to £195,000 for an eight-day trip, and it had recently run a mission to the wreck. It last tweeted about a Titanic expedition on June 16.

The Titanic, which was one of the largest ships in the world at the time it launched, sank in April 1912, killing more than 1,500 people out of the more than 2,000 on board. The wreck was discovered in 1985.

The disaster was chronicled by James Cameron in the 1997 film Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet which has taken over $2bn at box offices around the world.