A submersible that is missing deep under the Atlantic with five people on board after diving for the wreck of the Titanic resembles a ‘kit car’ built from ‘parts you can get from Amazon’, a former Royal Navy admiral said today.
Chris Parry described the small craft, named Titan, as ‘very flimsy and fragile’ – as a journalist who once sat inside claimed it features lights from a camping shop, off the shelf CCTV cameras and salvaged metal pipes for ballast.
The sub – which consists of a five-inch thick carbon fibre tube about the size of a minivan with a 22-inch Plexiglas window at one end – is said to be controlled using a modified Playstation controller.
It does not have a GPS system and uses Elon Musk’s Starlink to communicate with a communications and tracking team on its mothership, MV Polar Prince, via short text messages.
The sub is meant to communicate with the main ship – which in 2005 was listed on eBay with a reserve price of $1million – every 15 minutes to inform the team of its location.
The Titan – which has become lost while diving the wreck of the Titanic – has been described as an ‘experimental vessel’
The last message was received while the submersible floated above the Titanic wreckage at about 10am EST on Sunday (3pm UK time).
There are no seats and only one toilet – a small black box containing Ziploc bags – with a black curtain drawn across and music played for privacy.
However, the company’s website recommends ‘you restrict your diet before and during the dive to reduce the likelihood that you will need to use the facilities’.
The walls of the sub are heated because conditions can become extremely cold.
It emerged today that Titan reportedly suffered electrical damage and also had to be rebuilt for not being able to withstand the deep ocean before it was eventually able to start carrying wealthy tourists to the site.
The US Coast Guard is now leading the search for the vessel in the North Atlantic Ocean where it vanished on Sunday. The remote area is where the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500.
Rescuers are in a race against time to find British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding and four other passengers on board the 22ft-long craft, which is operated by OceanGate Expeditions.
They are UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, reportedly together with French submersible pilot Paul-Henry Nargeolet and chief executive and founder of OceanGate Expeditions Stockton Rush.
Speaking to Sky News, former rear admiral Chris Parry warned that crafts like Titan ‘are essentially kit cars, they’re not normal submarines’.
‘They’re built in an experimental way, and this particular one is, shall we say, built from components you can get off the internet, from Amazon – they’re very flimsy, very fragile, and you can’t allow a lot to go wrong before you’re in danger,’ he said.
Mr Parry said rescuing the vessel was going to be ‘very difficult’ and added that it’s unlikely it will have come to the surface as it ‘would have been found by now’.
‘You can’t possibly put another vehicle over the top of it and get people out at that depth – it has to be brought to the surface,’ he added.
CBS correspondent David Pogue who descended to see the Titanic last year – compared the sub to something put together by MacGyver – the TV series character known for his ingenuity in making devices from different items to get out of difficult situations.
Recalling the interior of the submersible in November, he described white camping lights on the ceiling, off-the-shelf security cameras, Ziploc bags for a toilet and construction pipes as ballast.
‘The main centre section looks like a shiny white tube about minivan length. It’s made of five inch thick carbon fibre which no one has ever used in a submersible before,’ he told his Unsung Science podcast.
A desperate search is currently underway for a 22-foot deep-sea vessel (shown in this graphic) that went missing with five people on board as it dove towards the wreck site of the Titanic
A file photo shows the cramped conditions faced by passengers inside the vessel
CBS correspondent David Pogue is seen inside the submersible, which he described as very basic
The journalist holding up a modified Logitech games controller that is said to be used to control the sub
‘At each end of the white tube is a tiny silver dome. The front end cap has a 22-inch round window made of seven-inch thick plexiglass so you can see out. When you get to the bottom of the ocean – that’s your view of the Titanic.
‘If you have to go to the bathroom you can crawl into the window end of the sub and hang up a black cloth for privacy. There’s a one foot square box on the floor that contains Ziploc bags.
‘There are a couple of touchscreen PC monitors on the floor of the sub but there are no controls. The multi-million sub is controlled with a games controller.’
The vessel is said to be controlled by a reinforced Playstation controller, though it doesn’t have a GPS system and is guided by text messages sent by a team above water.
Mr Pogue said it would be impossible for those inside it now to escape without help.
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, he said passengers were sealed inside the main capsule by 17 bolts that were applied from the outside and could only be removed by an external crew.
Mr Pogue interviewed Stockton Rush, who – describing how the sub moved around – said: ‘We only have one button, that’s it. It should be like an elevator, it shouldn’t take a lot of skill.’
He reassured the journalist that the vessel was safe, adding that his team had worked with Boeing, Nasa, and the University of Washington to ensure it could withstand deep-sea pressure.
And he added: ‘Everything else can fail. Your thrusters can go, your lights can go. You’re still going to be safe.’
Mike Reiss, a writer who took the Titanic submersible trip last year, today told BBC Breakfast that the sub ‘couldn’t be lower tech’.
‘The ship is propelled by very tiny motors that look like a fan you would have on your desk and it is steered by a joystick from a game system.
‘You are very taken with how simple it is.’
Mr Reiss said they experienced some technical faults, adding: ‘It’s pitch dark down there and the radar, the compass stopped working. We spent most of our time down there just flailing around, trying to find the biggest thing in the ocean.’
The writer said he was ‘not optimistic’ for the people inside the sub.
‘I know how vast the ocean is and how very tiny this craft is,’ he said.
OceanGate admits that the sub’s interior includes several pieces of ‘off-the-shelf technology’ which it says ‘helped to streamline the construction, and makes it simple to operate and replace parts in the field’.
The company warns customers that Titan is an experimental vessel, and they are asked to sign a waiver accepting that it ‘has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma or death’.
In a promo video, OceanGate Expeditions software security expert Aaron Newman was seen telling prospective clients that travelling on the sub is ‘not a ride at Disney, you know’.
OceanGate initially planned to use Titan for a trip to the Titanic in 2018 but this was abandoned after it sustained damage to its electronics from lightning, it was reported in the New York Times, citing a technology news website.
A year later, the voyage was postponed again because of a problem with complying with Canadian maritime law limitations on foreign flag vessels, according to GeekWire.
The site said it suffered further problems in 2020 and had to be completely rebuilt after tests showed signs of ‘cyclic fatigue’ that reduced the hull’s depth rating to 3,000 meters, which was well short of what it required to get close to the Titanic.
The vessel, built of carbon fibre and titanium was originally designed to take five people to depths of 4,000 metres (13,123 feet).
After detecting problems at how deep it could go OceanGate also announced at the time that it was working with NASA to ensure that it was strong enough to survive the ocean’s depths.
The company was founded in 2009 by Stockton Rush, 61 who is also its CEO and is one five people on board the missing Titan.
In an article from 2020, which revealed that the vessel had signs of ‘cyclic fatigue’ reducing the depth rating of its hull to 3,000 metres, Mr Rush told the news site: ‘Not enough to get to the Titanic.’
Shahzada Dawood, 48, a board member of the Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, (pictured together) are on board the missing submarine
Sulaiman Dawood, 19, who is missing on board the submarine is pictured with his mother Christine
Shahzada Dawood, 48, (pictured with his wife Christine) a UK-based board member of the Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, are amongst the five people missing in the submarine that set off to see the wreck of the Titanic, it was revealed today
His company has been promoting its latest trip to the historic wreck on its website and through social media channels for the past few months, tantalising rich customers with the promise that they too can ‘follow’ in the footsteps of legendary diver Jacques Cousteau and become an ‘underwater explorer’ by going to see the Titanic.
Tickets to join the expedition cost an eye-watering £195,000.
It was on only its third trip since OceanGate began offering the ‘once in a lifetime’ trips to the Titanic and announced at the time that six would take place that year, which did not materialise.
Another took place in 2022 followed by this year’s doomed trip.
Since launching, OceanGate has taken wealthy tourists on a number of missions to deep sites mainly across the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico selling the trips not just as a top-end tourism activity but an opportunity to ‘assist’ its experts and benefit from the company’s experience of diving.
The tours are pitched to the same type of clients as space tourism: adventurous, curious, and extremely wealthy. They have included visits to shipwrecks in Elliot Bay, Seattle; exploring deep waters in California and carrying out a shark survey.
According to the company’s website, OceanGate has successfully completed more than 14 expeditions and more than 200 dives.
OceanGate currently owns and operates three five-person submersibles. The first, Antipodes, could travel to a depth of 1,000 feet.
In 2012, the company acquired another submersible, and rebuilt it into Cyclops 1, a vessel that could travel to a depth of up to 1,640 feet. It served as a prototype for the newest submersible, the Titan.
Mr Rush is a qualified aerospace engineer and became the youngest jet transport rated pilot in the world aged just 19, according to the company’s website and obtained a degree in aerospace engineering from Princeton University three years later.
In 1984, he joined the McDonnell Douglas Corporation as a Flight Test Engineer on the F-15 fighter jet programme and also spent two years at Edwards Air Force Base working as part of the US Government’s anti-satellite missile programme.
He has personally built a Glasair III aircraft, and heavily modified a Kittredge K-350 two-man submersible, which has gone on over 30 dives to date.
Among those taking part in the expedition is billionaire Hamish Harding (pictured), CEO of Action Aviation in Dubai. He excitedly posted to social media about being there on Sunday
French Navy veteran PH Nargeolet (left) is believed to be taking part in the expedition, along with Stockton Rush (right), CEO of the OceanGate Expedition
He now oversees OceanGate’s financial and engineering strategies.
Mr Rush’s wife Wendy is director of Communications for OceanGate and an expedition team leader, according to her LinkedIn page.
The company is based in Everett, Washington State close to where the couple live.
Mr Rush runs OceanGate with four others in its leadership team, all of whom have extensive experience in technology, business and the maritime industry. He also sits on a board of directors which is made up of a retired Rear Admiral, a high-profile lawyer and other notable business figures from technology and maritime sectors.
The company’s trips to the Titanic wreck in the Titan are its unique selling point, with wealthy customers lured by the promise that they will be part of a ‘scientific and technological survey’ of the site.
Those who can afford the hefty price are referred to as ‘mission specialists’ or ‘citizen scientists’ with the company emphasising that they are not just there to view the wreck but participate in a ‘scientific study.’
People inside a Titan taking photos of the wreckage on their smartphones through a round window at the front
At the conclusion of each dive, the sub is then meant to land on the submerged recovery platform (seen here carrying the submarine), and the entire system is brought to the surface in approximately two minutes by filling the ballast tanks with air
I am Rakesh Sharma, I associated with Elite News as an Editor, since 2021. I take care of all the news operations like content, budget, hiring and policy making.