A journalist who traveled with five people on board the same submarine that went missing near the Titanic has described how it was cobbled together from abandoned pipes and powered by a game console controller.
CBS correspondent David Pogue said passengers on the Titan submarine are sealed in the main capsule with 17 bolts that can only be opened from the outside – with only 90 hours of oxygen.
“There’s no backup, there’s no escape pod – it’s surface or die,” he told the BBC.
Mr Pogue – who went down to see the Titanic last year – likened the submarine to something put together by MacGyver – the TV series character known for his ingenuity in crafting devices from various items to get out of tough situations to come.
He recalled the submarine’s interior in November, describing white camping lights on the ceiling, off-the-shelf security cameras, Ziploc bags for a toilet, and construction pipes for ballast.
CBS correspondent David Pogue can be seen in the submarine, which he described as very basic
The journalist holds up a game controller used to control the submarine
Mr Pogue visited the Titanic last year aboard a Titan submarine
“The main body in the middle looks like a shiny white tube about the length of a minivan. It’s made of six-inch thick carbon fiber that no one has ever used in a submarine,” he told Unsung Science.
At each end of the white tube is a small silver dome. The front end cap has a 22-inch circular window made from 7-inch-thick Plexiglas to allow you to see out. When you get to the bottom of the ocean, that’s your view of the Titanic.
“If you need to go to the bathroom, you crawl into the window of the sub and hang a black cloth for privacy. There is a one square foot box on the floor with Ziploc bags.
“There are a few touchscreen PC monitors on the submarine floor, but there are no controls. The multi-million dollar submarine is controlled with a game controller.”
Mr Pogue said it would be impossible for those in it now to escape without help.
He told the BBC yesterday that passengers in the main capsule were sealed with 17 bolts fitted from the outside and could only be removed by an outside crew.
He told The Context Program that the craft – which he said was “not made for consumers” – had seven different functions to resurface and it was “really concerning” that none of these had worked.
He added that these resurfacing capabilities would be irrelevant if the submarine became trapped or leaked.
“There’s no backup, there’s no escape pod — it’s surface or die,” he said.
Mike Reiss, a writer who made the Titanic submarine journey last year, appeared on BBC Breakfast to discuss his experience today.
“It can’t be lower tech, you just go down for 2 and a half hours,” he explained.
“The ship is propelled by very small motors that look like a fan you would have on your desk and it is controlled by a gaming system X-box joystick.
“You’re very pleased with how simple it is.”
People in a Titan taking photos of the wreckage on their smartphones through a round window in the front
The voyages to the Titanic are operated by OceanGate, a company based in Washington
A view of the famous wreck taken from one of OceanGate’s submarines
Mr Reiss said they had some technical glitches and added: ‘It’s pitch dark down there and the radar, the compass has stopped working. We spent most of our time down there poking around, looking for the biggest thing in the ocean.”
The writer said he was “not optimistic” for the people in the submarine.
“I know how vast the ocean is and how small this craft is,” he said.
Shahzada Dawood, 48, one of Pakistan’s wealthiest men and a UK-based board member of the Prince’s Trust, and his son Sulaiman, 19, are among the group attached to the small underwater craft – piloted by OceanGate – to take tourists take to the wreck.
British billionaire Hamish Harding is also on board with Paul-Henri Nargeolet, the world-famous French explorer. Stockton Rush, OceanGate’s CEO – who organized the trip – would be the fifth crew member.
The submarine is believed to have enough oxygen to stay submerged until 12pm Thursday UK time (7am EST).
OceanGate Expeditions was founded in 2009 to take wealthy explorers to the ship, which hit an iceberg in 1912 and sank. The wreck was not located until 1985 when it was found 350 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
Visitors were warned that the submarine “has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body and could result in physical harm, emotional trauma or death”
Tourists have been visiting it for decades, often in immensely strong but internally rudimentary submersibles.
But those boarding the submarine will be required to sign a waiver stating, “This experimental craft has not been approved or certified by any regulatory agency and may result in bodily harm, emotional trauma or death.”
Mr Pogue said yesterday he was told there were seven ballasts the submarine could jettison to float to the top.
“Or they’re floating on the surface and have no power,” he told Chris Cuomo on NewsNation.
“Or something happened that wiped out all seven of those ballasts.
“Or the really awful possibility is that the capsule developed a leak and they’ll be dead in a fraction of a second.”
The submersible is made of carbon fiber and titanium, built to withstand the intense pressure under the sea – about 6,000 lbs per square inch. It is equipped to communicate with the mothership via SMS.
When Mr. Pogue was aboard the mothership, the submarine lost orientation on the sea floor and was unable to locate the wreck – despite the mothership sending down messages telling the submarine to go left or right or straight ahead.
This is the latest sighting of the submarine Titan, which launched on Sunday
The submarine is seen before starting its expedition
Mr. Pogue said the submarines were amazingly basic inside.
“These submarines are a one-off,” he told Cuomo.
“They are jerry rigged sometimes. The lamps he bought at camperworld.com, something like that.
“They’re all like that—James Cameron’s, all of them.”
For the 1997 film “Titanic,” Cameron made 12 dives to the shipwreck, developing deep-sea filmmaking and exploration technology. He has made a total of 33 dives to the site.
Mr Pogue said any attempt to reach the site was incredibly dangerous.
“This company does several expeditions a year, parked over the Titanic for five days each,” he told Cuomo.
‘Usually they come to the site once or not at all.
“Sometimes twice a week, but never five times, because the conditions are never right.”
The mother ship, MV Polar Prince, departed Newfoundland on Saturday for the site above the Titanic wreckage, 370 miles away.
The submarine launched in the early hours of Sunday.
The Boston Coast Guard is now searching for the missing ship. The wreck of the iconic ship lies 12,500 feet underwater, about 370 miles from Newfoundland, Canada
OceanGate Expeditions is one of the few companies that offers the tours. Tickets cost up to $250,000.
On board were British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding, 58; French Navy Veteran PH Nargeolet; and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush. The other two occupants have not been named.
Rush said that in an interview last year CBS news that he was “a very unusual company.”
He added: ‘It’s its own category. It’s a new kind of travel.’
He said their customers were a range of people.
“We have customers who are Titanic enthusiasts, who we call Titaniacs.
“We’ve had people take out a mortgage on their house to come and make the trip. And we have people who don’t think long about a trip of this cost. We had a gentleman who won the lottery.’
The submarine – it is not a submarine, because it is not independent and depends on a mother ship – lost contact with the mother ship an hour and 45 minutes after its descent.
Analysts think it could have lost power, or sunk and perhaps got stuck on the wreck. Some initially suggested it may have surfaced and floated without power, but that seems increasingly distant.