Saturday: The drama begins
Hamish Harding is proud to reveal he is one of five passengers about to embark on an exclusive deep sea tour of the Titanic wreck in the North Atlantic.
In a social media post, the billionaire adventurer excitedly says a “weather window has opened” that could allow the OceanGate expedition to dive the following morning.
Along with fellow Brits – Surrey-based tycoon Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his teenage son Suleman – Mr Harding made the 400-mile journey from Newfoundland to the wreck site. Each paid a whopping £195,000 for the privilege of having their eyes set on the legendary Titanic that sank in 1912 at the cost of 1,500 lives.
They would have been asked to sign a disclaimer acknowledging that the Titan was an uncertified “experimental craft” and that the voyage could cause “physical injury, disability, motion trauma or death.” Despite the dire warnings, Mr. Harding seems confident in the abilities of their escorts: French submarine pilot Paul-Henry Nargeolet and Stockton Rush, the head of OceanGate.
Six days of hope and tragedy that left the world transfixed by the Titanic disaster
On the left, British billionaire Hamish Harding. That’s right, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush
Pictured left, Shahzada Dawood. That’s right, Commander Paul-Henry Nargeolet
This undated photo from Engro Corporation Limited shows Suleman Dawood
In his post, he describes them as a “pair of legendary explorers” who made more than 30 dives to the Titanic. Mr. Harding signs his last message from the mother ship Polar Prince with the promise: “More expedition updates to follow IF the weather continues!”
But just a few hours later, the submarine loses contact, leading to an unprecedented and monumental search involving ships swarming the ocean and state-of-the-art robots deployed on the seabed. The mystery will capture the attention of the world for the next four days.
Sunday: disaster strikes
Unaware of the impending catastrophe, the group reportedly excitedly boarded the submarine on Sunday morning and finally launched it after a short delay.
They would have seen the Titan’s dome window from which they expected the breathtaking view.
The men are confined with limited food supplies and 96 hours of oxygen – enough for what is expected to be a seven-hour journey, resurfacing at 9 p.m. A final terrifying photo of Titan shows it being towed by Polar Prince into gray choppy seas shortly before the men embark on what is billed as a once in a lifetime adventure.
The submarine, programmed to “ping” every 15 minutes to indicate its location, then begins its two-hour descent to the Titanic, which lies at a depth of 12,500 feet. But disaster seems to strike before they reach the shipwreck – all contact is lost after just one hour and 45 minutes.
Initial searches of the area were said to have been made, but disturbingly, the US Coast Guard says it was not notified until nearly eight hours later at 11:40 p.m.
Monday: The search has begun
The next morning, authorities reveal that a large-scale maritime search is under way to find the ‘overdue submarine’.
A unified command center is being set up on Polar Prince, while US and Canadian naval vessels as well as the US Air National Guard are confused. They are soon joined by specialized aircraft including P3 Aurora and P8 Poseidon with underwater detection capabilities.
But rescuers reveal the submarine could have become trapped on the 111-year-old wreck, making it nearly impossible to locate without underwater robots.
In this image from a digital scan released by Atlantic/Magellan on Thursday, May 18, 2023, a view of the bow of the Titanic taken in the Atlantic Ocean using deep-sea charts
In this photo released by Action Aviation, the submarine Titan is being prepared for a dive in a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean on an expedition to the Titanic on Sunday, June 18, 2023
John Mauger, a vice admiral of the US Coast Guard, admits that they are unable to search the bottom of the ocean. He says multiple assets, including three ROVs — remotely operated vehicles — are being mobilized.
Tuesday: Oxygen anxiety
The next morning, the Bahamian research vessel Deep Energy arrives on site and is able to start vital ROV operations. At 7 p.m., Coast Guardsmen hold a press conference broadcast from Boston around the world, revealing that the passengers have only 40 hours of oxygen left.
With no sign of the missing submarine despite more than 48 hours of intense searching across 10,000 square miles, hopes for the passengers are beginning to fade.
France has now deployed the research vessel Atalante and its advanced ROV – Victor 6000 – which can dive to 6,000 feet.
It is said that he holds the key to the operation and is not expected to arrive until Wednesday evening.
Behind the scenes, an encouraging development is taking place. Canadian aircraft surveying the area have detected ‘popping noises’ at regular 30-minute intervals and believed them to be coming from an area close to the Titan’s last known location.
Recordings are handed over to US Navy experts for analysis, while searches are rearranged to find the source of the sounds.
Wednesday: Hope rises
Further planes crossing the area pick up the ‘bang noises’ again four hours later and again the following day, Wednesday.
Mr Harding’s cousin, Kathleen Cosnett, says detecting the noises has given her hope that the crew is banging on the hull and calling for help.
Mr. Dawood’s sister, Sabrina, says the family is completely focused on saving her brother and cousin.
In this U.S. Coast Guard handout, a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, flies over the French research vessel, L’Atalante, about 900 miles east of Cape Cod during the search for the 21 -foot submarine, Titan, June 21, 2023 over the Atlantic Ocean
The debris was discovered by the Odysseus 6K, the remotely operated submarine deployed by the Horizon Arctic. The ROV can dive to 20,000 feet
Then damning documents emerge showing that concerns about the safety of the Titan were raised to OceanGate by former employees and industry experts as far back as 2018. OceanGate has previously said that seeking safety certification slows innovation.
An open letter, signed by 38 industry experts, warned that the unregulated “experimental” ship was heading for catastrophe and needed to be properly tested.
Meanwhile, other vessels arrive on the scene to aid in the search, including the Canadian Coast Guard’s John Cabot, a sonar-capable vessel, and the commercial vessels Skandi Vinland and the Atlantic Merlin.
The search area is now expanding ‘exponentially’ due to the ever-changing weather conditions. Coast Guards have five surface vessels searching the area reportedly twice the size of Connecticut.
At 7 p.m., a second press conference from the US Coast Guard takes place in which they admit to having had difficulty locating the origin of the ‘bangs’.
Captain James Frederick says initial analysis has proved “inconclusive,” but search efforts – including sonar buoys – are focusing on where the sounds came from. A Hercules aircraft conducts a search over a distance of 879 miles on Wednesday afternoon.
Yesterday: Tragic end
A few hours later, Atalante finally arrives with the Victor 6000, which will be the first to launch on Thursday morning. It has lights, cameras and mechanical arms capable of cutting or removing debris.
The Canadian-flagged Horizon Arctic ship also deploys an ROV provided by the US Navy.
The Titan’s oxygen supply is now dangerously low and is expected to run out by 2 p.m.
But Vice Admiral Mauger says it’s still a rescue mission with a robot now on the ocean floor.
A mobile decompression chamber stands on standby in hopes that the Titanic explorers stand a fighting chance.
But then the US Coast Guard makes a disturbing announcement that dashes all hopes.
In a tweet posted shortly before 6 p.m., rescuers announce the devastating news that the robotic devices have found a “debris field” near the Titanic.
David Mearns, a rescue expert who knows two of the five men on board, says two critical parts of the system have been detected and the hull has yet to be found.
Mr. Mearns tells Sky News: “They don’t use terms like ‘debris field’ unless there is no chance of the men being found alive.”
He says the only saving grace is that the deaths would have been “instantaneous – literally in milliseconds” and they wouldn’t have known what had happened.
Coast Guard prepares to explain the grim discovery that is expected to end the extraordinary four-day search.