You’ve probably heard about the lost Titanic tourist sub, and the urgent search and rescue efforts that launched yesterday.
(As of late last night, there was no definitive result of that operation, but “USA Today“, CNN, and the “New York Times” have updating links with the latest. In the meantime, here’s a cheat sheet with the basics . . .)
1. The missing vessel isn’t actually a submarine. It’s a “submersible” named Titan with limited communication and navigation controls, which is operated by a company called OceanGate Expeditions. It carries five people . . . usually two crew members and three tourists . . . down to view the wreckage of the Titanic, which sank in 1912.
2. The Titanic rests about 13,000 feet underwear. Titan is capable of descending about that far after it’s launched from a ship at the surface.
3. For this expedition, the crew left Newfoundland, Canada on Saturday on a ship called the Polar Prince. They started the dive inside Titan early Sunday morning, but contact was lost after just an hour and 45 minutes.
4. It generally takes about two hours for them to get down to the wreckage. So it could’ve been close to the end of its descent when it lost contact.
5. Titan has only done a few expeditions, the first being just two years ago. Last year, there was one incident where communication broke down for a couple hours, and Titan got lost. But they never fully lost contact.
Due to that issue, Titan wasn’t able to find the Titanic wreckage that day. But they went back down later that week and had a successful mission. (Here is a report about that trip.)
6. There’s a video on YouTube that shows just how basic the controls are. There’s no GPS or radio onboard. They get TEXT MESSAGES from the ship above telling them where to go . . . and the vessel is “driven” using an off-brand Xbox controller. (???)
7. This past Sunday night, Titan was reported “overdue” . . . and then early yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard launched search and rescue operations. A unit was sent from Boston, about 900 miles from the site.
8. The situation was immediately urgent, because by yesterday morning, they’d been underwater for more than 24 hours, and there’s only between 70 and 96 hours of air onboard. Plus limited food and water.
9. Not much is publicly known about how Titan was equipped to handle emergencies, like if there were beacons that could signal its location.
10. But a journalist who was on the aborted mission last summer is Tweeting about it. He says Titan has “seven ways” to rise back to the surface in an emergency, but adds, “The question is, why haven’t they?” (Here’s an interview he did yesterday.)
11. According to reports, Titan’s five passengers include: A British billionaire and explorer named Hamish Harding . . . a former French Navy Commander and Titanic expert named Paul-Henry Nargeolet . . . Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood . . . his 19-year-old son, Suleman . . . and the CEO of OceanGate, Stockton Rush.
12. Trips like these are super exclusive and cost at least $250,000 a pop. Even then, OceanGate claims they aren’t making money on the trips yet, because of the high costs of the expedition, especially gas.
13. Unfortunately, you’re up against a lot when you’re doing searches at sea. There are tough weather conditions and you can’t do much at night. In this case, there’s also the depth . . . the lack of location data . . . and the fact that it’s in a very remote area of the Atlantic Ocean.
14. One expert listed four possible causes for a communication breakdown like this: Loss of power . . . a short circuit could cause a fire . . . any amount of flooding would be disastrous down there . . . or you could get caught up in the Titanic’s debris and not be able to resurface. The best case scenario would be you’re at or near the surface, and just can’t ping anyone.