A tourist submarine that vanished with five people on-board while exploring the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean has “between 70 and 96 hours” of oxygen left and could be stuck in the shipwreck, according to authorities.
The US Coast Guard said a search is underway for the small sub, which takes tourists to view the iconic wreckage that sits about 3800 metres at the bottom of the ocean, roughly 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
The Canadian research vessel that it was working with reportedly lost contact with the crew about an hour and 45 minutes into the dive on Sunday morning local time.
The final picture of the 6.4-metre submarine was taken early on Sunday morning. The vessel could be seen in foggy and wet weather being taken out to sea by two dinghies on a barge before it slipped into the water.
OceanGate Expeditions, a private tour firm which runs $US250,000-a-seat expeditions to the site, confirmed that the missing submarine belonged to them, adding that crew members were on board the vessel.
Rear Admiral John Mauger of the US Coast Guard told reporters at a press conference in Boston on Monday afternoon that the force was doing everything possible to “locate and rescue” those on board.
He said the vessel had a 96-hour “emergency capability” of oxygen in reserve. “We anticipate there is somewhere between 70 and the full 96 hours available at this point,” he said.
“We’re making the best use of every moment of that time to locate the vessel.”
The vessel launched at about 4am local time on Sunday, meaning it could have enough oxygen to last until 4am on Thursday (4.30pm Thursday AEST).
The US Coast Guard is working with Canadian Armed Forces, which has deployed a C130 aircraft and a P8 submarine.
A number of private vessels have also joined the search including the Polar Prince, which transported the submersible to the site.
NEW: U.S. Coast Guard on missing sub: "The vessel was designed with a 96-hour sustainment capability, if there was an emergency onboard, and so we're ... making the best use of every moment of that time."https://t.co/dRgWB3OtT7pic.twitter.com/RGU6Wb9JGe
Rear Admiral Mauger said currently the Coast Guard’s capabilities were “limited to listening to sounds” via sonar but additional resources were being sought.
He conceded that it was possible the submarine had become stuck in the wreckage.
“We don’t have equipment onsite that can do a survey of the bottom,” he said. “There is a lot of debris … so locating will be difficult. We don’t have the capabilities at this time. Right now, we’re focused on trying to locate it.”
Rear Admiral Mauger added rescue teams “take this personally” and were working “as hard as possible” to find the submarine while “lives are at risk”.
“Our thoughts are with the families and the crew members aboard the submersible,” he said.
Speaking to Sky News, retired British Rear Admiral Chris Parry echoed his concerns. “It’s very worrying — it could have become entangled in the wreckage of Titanic, we don’t know yet,” he said.
In an earlier statement, OceanGate Expeditions said, “Our entire focus is on the crew members in the submersible and their families. We are exploring and mobilising all options to bring the crew back safely.”
It said government agencies and deep-sea firms were helping the operation.
The family of billionaire world explorer Hamish Harding revealed on Facebook that he was among the five travelling in the missing submarine.
Mr Harding, a British businessman who previously paid for a space ride aboard the Blue Origin rocket last year, shared a photo of himself on Sunday signing a banner for OceanGate’s latest voyage to the shipwreck.
The traveller boasted about finally being able to get to see the Titanic, noting that because of the poor weather persisting in Newfoundland, Monday morning’s mission would be the only one of 2023.
“We started steaming from St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada yesterday and are planning to start dive operations around 4am tomorrow morning. Until then we have a lot of preparations and briefings to do,” Mr Harding wrote before the dive.
His stepson, Brian Szasz, shared Mr Harding’s post, writing, “Thoughts and prayers for my stepfather Hamish Harding as his Submarine has gone missing exploring Titanic. Search and rescue mission is underway.”
French submersible pilot Paul-Henry Nargeolet and OceanGate Expeditions chief executive and founder Stockton Rush are also believed to be on board the sub.
Mr Nargeolet is the Director of Underwater Research Program at Premier Exhibitions, RMS Titanic, Inc.
He previously spoke frankly of the extreme dangers of deep-sea exploration in an interview.
“If you are 11 metres or 11 kilometres down, if something bad happens, the result is the same,” he said. “When you’re in very deep water, you’re dead before you realise that something is happening, so it’s just not a problem.”
The missing craft is believed to be OceanGate’s Titan submersible, a truck-sized sub that holds five people and usually dives with a four-day supply of oxygen.
Ocean researcher Robert Blasiak told the BBC the search teams faced tough conditions.
“The ocean on average is about four kilometres deep so this [submersible] is at great depth,” he said, adding light only penetrates about one kilometre into the ocean so the submersible would be in “pitch black and water pressures of about 400 atmospheres”.
The wreck of the disaster has remained a popular tourist destination, with passengers taking to the depth to see the haunting site where more than 1500 passengers died after the “unsinkable” ship struck an iceberg and sank while sailing from Southampton, England, to New York in April 1912.
The wreck was discovered in the Atlantic in 1985 about 595 kilometres off the Canadian coast, with the ship lying in two parts after it split in half during its sinking.
The catastrophe was immortalised in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The film shattered box office records at the time, earning $US2.25 billion.
OceanGate Expeditions is one of several companies that offer submarine rides to the site.
It touts the eight-day trip as a “chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary”.
The dives themselves can last up to 10 hours each, with the company boasting about recent trips to the Titanic on social media. The company noted that because of its location in the middle of the Atlantic, it relies on Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites for its communications at sea.
OcenGate posted on Twitter that one expedition to the Titanic was ongoing, with two more planned for June 2024.
Mr Rush told CBS late last year that his company sees no shortage of “Titaniacs”, people obsessed with the ship who “would mortgage their homes or wouldn’t even blink at the cost of this trip”.
He boasted that his five-person sub was one of the few capable of visiting the wreckage.
Last month, Atlantic Productions and deep-sea mapping company Magellan Ltd. released a series of more than 700,000 scans of the wreckage, displaying stunning 3D reconstructions of the doomed cruise liner.
The images were taken by a team using remote-controlled submersibles to survey the ship, a project that took more than 200 hours to complete.