British Billionaire Vanishes in Titanic Depths: Intense Global Search Underway for Lost Submarine

In an urgent effort, rescue teams from the United States and Canada are combing the sea for a missing tourist submarine that disappeared during a trip to the Titanic wreckage site. Notably, British billionaire Hamish Harding is among the five people onboard the vessel.

Harding is the chairperson of Action Aviation, a private plane company, who confirmed his role as a mission specialist on the OceanGate Expeditions submarine that was declared overdue on Sunday evening, approximately 435 miles south of St John’s, Newfoundland.

It is believed that the submersible, known as Titan, has an oxygen supply that can last four days. This supply would have been activated on Sunday morning.

Shahzada Dawood, a Pakistani businessman, and his son, Sulaiman Dawood, have been identified as two of the individuals accompanying Harding on the submarine. 

In a statement released by the Dawood family to CNN, they stated, "Presently, their submersible craft has lost contact, and there is scarce information available. We appreciate the concern expressed by our friends and colleagues, and we request everyone to pray for their safety, and to respect the family's privacy during this period. The family is well-cared-for and is praying to Allah for the safe return of their family members."

The remaining passengers are thought to be Paul Henry Nargeolet, a retired French naval officer, deep-sea diver, and submersible pilot, and Stockton Rush, the CEO and founder of OceanGate Expeditions, the organization that orchestrated the mission to the Titanic wreckage site.

The Titanic wreckage is submerged 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) beneath the ocean surface, approximately 370 miles (600km) away from Newfoundland's coast.

As of Tuesday, a large-scale search and rescue operation, spearheaded by the U.S. Coast Guard and involving military aircraft 900 miles east of Cape Cod, was ongoing.

The U.S. Coast Guard mentioned that the Polar Prince, a Canadian research vessel, and the 106 Rescue Wing would continue surface searches while two C-130 flights were sent out by the U.S. Coast Guard to locate the lost submarine.

Rear Admiral John W Mauger of the U.S. Coast Guard emphasized that they were deploying all available resources to locate the submersible. He mentioned that the vessel had one pilot and four mission specialists onboard with up to 96 hours of emergency oxygen.

The Polar Prince, Titan's support vessel, is expected to conduct surface searches throughout the night, while the Canadian P8 Poseidon aircraft are scheduled to resume their search on Tuesday, according to the Coast Guard.

Made from carbon fiber and titanium, the Titan submersible is typically used to explore the Titanic wreckage.

Hamish Harding is a holder of three Guinness World Records, one of which is for the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel when he, along with ocean explorer Victor Vescovo, descended to the Mariana Trench's lowest point in March 2021. He also embarked on a space journey on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket in June 2022.

Harding had previously shared his excitement about the mission to the Titanic wreckage site on social media over the weekend, and his absence was announced by the Explorers Club, where he is a founding member.

Efforts are currently underway to deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of reaching a depth of 6,000 meters to the site. Even if the submersible is located, experts warn that retrieval could be a complex task, especially if the vessel is entwined in the Titanic's hundred-year-old wreckage.

Marine engineering professor Alistair Greig from University College London noted that if the submersible is trapped in the seabed and unable to resurface on its own, the recovery options are very limited. 

He said, "Even if the submersible remains intact, but is situated beyond the continental shelf, there are only a handful of vessels capable of reaching such depths, and certainly, divers cannot."

ROVs, operated by pilots on a surface vessel and connected by a cord to relay real-time data from sonar and camera systems, are expected to be the primary method used for search and recovery. However, the extensive debris from the Titanic wreckage on the ocean floor complicates matters, and it could take considerable time to distinguish between the Titanic debris and the missing Titan submersible.

Frank Owen, a retired Royal Australian Navy official and former director of a submarine escape and rescue project, emphasized the danger of the operation, stating, "Parts of the Titanic are scattered everywhere. It's hazardous."

In the event that the submarine is located, the process of retrieval could still pose a significant challenge, especially if it has become entangled in the century-old wreckage of the Titanic. 

Despite the difficulties faced by the search and rescue teams, the global community remains hopeful for the safe recovery of all individuals onboard the lost vessel. The situation has drawn attention worldwide, highlighting the inherent risks of deep-sea exploration and raising questions about future regulations and safety measures in this frontier of discovery.

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