A British billionaire is one of five people aboard a tourist submersible who went missing during a trip to the Titanic shipwreck.
Hamish Harding, chairman of private aircraft company Action Aviation, is said to be aboard the five-person OceanGate expedition ship, which was reported overdue Sunday night about 435 miles south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
A major search and rescue operation led by the US Coast Guard and using military aircraft is underway.
In a news conference Monday, US Coast Guard Rear Admiral John W. Mauger said they would do “anything” to find the submersible, saying it had a pilot and four mission operators on board.
He said they were conducting a search 900 miles east of Cape Cod in cooperation with Canadian forces and merchant ships in the area.
“It’s a remote area and challenging, but we’re using every means available to ensure we can locate the ship and rescue those on board,” he said.
He said the submersible had an emergency capability of 96 hours, which would give rescuers a window to find the occupants alive, adding, “We estimate there is anywhere from 70 to 96 hours remaining at this point.”
The Canadian research ship Polar Prince lost contact with the submersible during a dive, the US Coast Guard said.
A submarine needs a mother ship to launch and recover it, whereas a submarine has enough power to leave and return to port on its own.
Over the weekend, Mr Harding said on social media he was “proud to finally be able to announce” he would be on board the mission to the wreck of the Titanic, the luxury ocean liner that struck an iceberg and sank in 1912 more than 1,500 people lost their lives.
But Mr Harding added that due to the “worst Newfoundland winter in 40 years, this mission will likely be the first and only manned mission to Titanic in 2023”.
He continued: “A weather window has just opened and we will be attempting a dive tomorrow.
“We started vaping yesterday from St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada and plan to start diving operations tomorrow morning around 4am. Until then, we still have a lot of preparations and briefings to do.”
OceanGate Expeditions said its focus is on the people aboard the ship and their families.
“We are deeply grateful for the extensive support we have received from multiple government agencies and deepwater companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible,” the company said in a statement.
“We are working on the safe return of crew members.”
A court document filed by U.S. OceanGate in April said the submersible, dubbed Titan, can dive to depths of 13,120 feet “with a comfortable margin of safety,” the Associated Press reported Monday.
Titan weighs 20,000 pounds, is made of “titanium and filament-wound carbon fiber” and has been shown to “resist the tremendous pressures of the deep sea,” OceanGate reportedly said.
The submersible participated in OceanGate’s third annual voyage to monitor shipwreck decay following the 2021 and 2022 expeditions.
But in a tweet on Monday, CBS Sunday Morning correspondent David Pogue wrote, “You may recall that the @OceanGateExped submarine of the #Titanic was also lost for a few hours LAST summer while I was on board…”
In his program at the time, he said: “There is no GPS underwater, so the surface ship should guide the submarine to the shipwreck by sending text messages.”
“But on that dive, communication kind of broke down, the submarine never found the wreck.”
Mr Harding holds three Guinness World Records: the longest duration and distance traveled at full sea depth by a crewed ship and the fastest circumnavigation of both poles by plane.
Two of those feats were accomplished by Mr Harding and fellow explorer Victor Vescovo when they dived in a two-person submersible to the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench — the deepest part of the ocean — in March 2021.
They spent four hours and 15 minutes traversing the seabed of the Challenger Deep, covering 2.88 miles at that depth.
Challenger Deep is located about 186 miles southwest of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean and has a depth of 35,860 feet in its eastern basin.
In July 2019, Mr. Harding was part of a team that completed the fastest circumnavigation of the world by plane, crossing both geographic poles, in a time of 46 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds.
In June last year, he traveled into space as a tourist with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin.