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

20 June 2023, 09:10 | Updated: 20 June 2023, 12:31

The rescue effort faces challenges
The rescue effort faces challenges. Picture: Alamy/OceanGate

By Will Taylor

Rescuers are racing to find a submersible with five people on board that has gone missing during a trip to the wreck of the Titanic.

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The scramble to reach the passengers, including British billionaire Hamish Harding, is under way - but the effort will involve operating hundreds of miles from land and potentially thousands of feet below the surface.

The US and Canadian forces and private boats are involved in the search and rescue effort.

The operation's leader, Rear Admiral John W Mauger of the US Coast Guard, said "everything" is being done to find the vessel but warned it "is a remote area and a challenge".

Read more: Who is Hamish Harding? The British billionaire and Guinness World Record holder missing on the Titanic expedition

OceanGate Expeditions owns the craft, called Titan, which went missing on Sunday. "We anticipate there is somewhere between 70 and the full 96 hours available at this point," R Adm Mauger said on Monday.

It went missing during a voyage down to the Titanic, which is about 12,500ft below the waves and 435 miles from Newfoundland. A trip with OceanGate can cost as much as £195,000 for eight days.

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 feared.

The Titan sub is missing
The Titan sub is missing. 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."

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

However, he said submersibles can release mass in an emergency to get them back above the waves using buoyancy.

Five passengers were onboard, including 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.

Mr Harding is among the passengers on board
Mr Harding is among the passengers on board. Picture: Alamy

The effort could to find them could 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.

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."

The operation will see rescuers use sonar to try and detect the craft, while military planes will fly over the area.

Rear Admiral John Mauger warned of the difficulties of the search
Rear Admiral John Mauger warned of the difficulties of the search. Picture: Alamy

Private vessels have been asked to help. The mother ship for the Titan, called the Polar Prince, has been carrying out a surface search.

OceanGate adviser David Concannon warned the rescue timeframe is tight and that vital equipment has been held "on the tarmac" because of bureaucracy.

He said the sub could be reached from the ship within 40 hours.

He added: "If we get the assets flown from Guernsey Channel Islands overnight, we can have them mobilised on the ship in a day and we can get there inside the window.

"Now, it's at the end of the window, but we can get there inside the window where there's still oxygen in the submersible and that's what we want to do."

He told NewsNation: "This equipment has been on the tarmac for hours. When I communicate with the U.S. government, I get 'out of office' replies - not from everyone, but from key people that have a sign-off on this."