The five-man crew of the Titan submersible currently lost in the North Atlantic near the site of the Titanic wreck have been named.
Also read: Fall-out from the Titan disaster
They are the man who operates the dive venture, OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush, Titanic exploration veteran Paul Henry ‘PH’ Nargeolet and UK-based paying passengers Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood and his teenage son Suleman.
The five had begun their descent to the Titanic from OceanGate Expeditions’ support ship Polar Prince on Sunday morning (18 June), following the 435-mile trip out from St John's in Newfoundland, Canada.
At around 10am local time the submersible was about 105 minutes into its two-hour descent and directly above the Titanic when communications – in the form of ‘pings’ made at 15-minute intervals – were lost.
Without comms, the surface team was unable to guide or track Titan, and a distress call was sent to the US Coast Guard in Boston. US and Canadian agencies and navies and commercial deep-sea companies have since been assisting in the air and sea search, with sonar buoys deployed in a bid to detect any signals from depth.
Titan should have enough oxygen to keep its occupants alive while submerged until about 7am local time on Thursday, and the hope is that its emergency systems will enable it to become positively buoyant, return to the surface and be spotted.
The fear is that the craft might have become entangled with the Titanic wreckage, where it would be trapped too deep for any manned rescue submarine to reach it – though the possibility of an ROV rescue operation is being explored.
The 6.7m carbon-fibre and titanium submersible, which has only a limited power supply for autonomous movement, has a depth rating of 4km (Titanic lies at 3.8km) and its return trip to the wreck would normally have taken 8-10 hours.
The five on Titan
It would have cost the three guests, or “mission specialists” as they are termed by OceanGate, £195,000 apiece to make the Titanic dive. Harding, 58, was the first of the Titan passengers to be named. The billionaire CEO of Dubai-based Action Aviation, he has previously been into space on the Blue Origin craft, visited both poles, circumnavigated the globe and set three Guinness World Records.
Harding had stated the day before the dive that a weather window had finally opened up following Newfoundland’s worst winter in 40 years, although he thought it likely that theirs would be “the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023”.
Shahzada Dawood, 48, described as one of Pakistan’s richest businessmen, is vice-chairman of conglomerates firm Engro Corporation and chemicals manufacturer Dawood Hercules Corporation. He originally moved to the UK to study law and lives there with his wife, daughter and 19-year-old Suleman, who is a university student. They are British citizens.
Stockton Rush, 61 is the chief executive of OceanGate Expeditions, and started the Titanic tourism venture in 2019. At 19 he had become the world’s youngest jet transport-rated pilot, going on to become a flight test engineer and venture capitalist.
In 1989 he built his own two-man submersible, in which he has conducted more than 30 dives. And in 2012 he co-founded the non-profit OceanGate Foundation to provide financial support for marine research and applied technology.
Either Rush or 73-year-old French deep-ocean explorer PH Nargeolet, described by OceanGate as “Titanic’s Greatest Explorer”, could have been piloting Titan. Nargeolet served in the French Navy as a commander, submarine pilot and clearance diver before in 1986 joining deep-submersible operator the French Institute for Research & Exploitation of Sea.
He led the first recovery expedition to Titanic in 1987, and has supervised the salvage of 5,000 of its artefacts, including a 20-ton section of hull. Based in the USA, he is director of underwater research programmes for Premier Exhibitions, RMS Titanic, Inc. In 2010 he led the most comprehensive survey expedition of the wreck up to that time, and has carried out 35 dives in Titan.
Comms lost before
Titan is recorded as having lost communication with its support ship before – on a similar tourist dive to Titanic last year, when a black-out of some 2.5 hours occurred while a CBS reporter was accompanying the expedition. The dive had to be aborted, with the passengers offered a rerun the following year, though the report made clear that it was not unusual for Titan dives to have to be postponed because of adverse weather conditions.
During the report Rush explained that its mission specialists included “Titaniacs, people who had mortgaged their home to come and do the trip, and we have people that don’t think twice to do a trip of this cost. We had one gentleman who had won the lottery.” But he also said that at that point OceanGate had yet to profit from the operation and was spending ”a million dollars in gas”.
“We are exploring and mobilising all options to bring the crew back safely,” OceanGate has stated of the current emergency. “Our entire focus is on the crew-members in the submersible and their families.
“We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible. We are working toward the safe return of the crew-members.”