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All 5 passengers aboard Titan sub are dead after a 'catastrophic implosion'

Rear Adm. John Mauger, the U.S. Coast Guard District commander, speaks during a news conference in Boston on Thursday about the search for the missing OceanGate submersible Titan.
Brian Snyder
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Reuters
Rear Adm. John Mauger, the U.S. Coast Guard District commander, speaks during a news conference in Boston on Thursday about the search for the missing OceanGate submersible Titan.

Updated June 22, 2023 at 6:23 PM ET

All five passengers aboard the missing Titan submersible have died following a "catastrophic implosion of the vessel," the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in Boston, Rear Adm. John Mauger said the debris found by a remotely operated vehicle on the sea floor near the wreck of the Titanic – roughly 900 miles east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts – indicated the crew and passengers likely died from the failure of the craft.

"The debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber," he said. "Upon this determination, we immediately notified the families ... I can only imagine what this has been like for them. And I hope that this discovery provides some solace during this difficult time."

OceanGate, the company that developed the submersible, said officials "now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, have sadly been lost,"

Titan set out on its journey Sunday morning and lost contact with its support ship less than two hours later. Coast Guard officials said they will begin to withdraw vessels from the scene over the next 24 hours but added that remote operations will continue on the sea floor.

When asked about the likelihood of recovering the bodies, Mauger said he does not have an answer and noted the "incredibly unforgiving environment" of the sea floor.

A boat near the U.S. Coast Guard base in Boston, Mass., on Wednesday, where rescue teams are racing to find a missing submersible with five people on board.
Fatih Aktas / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A boat near the U.S. Coast Guard base in Boston, Mass., on Wednesday, where rescue teams raced to find a missing submersible with five people on board.

Earlier Thursday, rescue teams hunting for the missing submersible uncovered a field of debris near the site of the wrecked ocean liner, the Coast Guard said.

Here's a guide to what we know.

What do we know about the debris field?

The Coast Guard said that the debris field was uncovered by an ROV deployed by the Canadian ship Horizon Arctic, which had reached the sea floor early Thursday.

Experts say the seabed around the Titanic is littered with bits of the wreck, which shows tell-tale signs of its age, including the effects of an iron-eating bacteria.

The Coast Guard said that maritime surveillance planes operated by Canada detected underwater sounds late Tuesday, then again on Wednesday.

Various underwater search efforts were moved to the location of the noise to discover its source, but the Coast Guard said efforts "yielded negative results" up until news of the debris field.

As of Wednesday, underwater acoustic experts from the U.S. Navy were still analyzing the sounds, which one expert described as "banging noises."

What kind of equipment is being used in the search?

A photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday shows a ship searching for the lost submersible near the wreck site of the Titanic.
/ U.S. Coast Guard
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U.S. Coast Guard
A photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday shows a ship searching for the lost submersible near the wreck site of the Titanic.

The Coast Guard says that the data from the Canadian aircraft, a P-3 Orion, served as a focus point for its unified search efforts.

The remoteness of the location and the size of the search area — extending 10,000 miles on the surface and 2.4 miles down to the ocean floor — complicated efforts to locate the vessel and its passengers. Thursday's weather, at least, may have proved more favorable to search crews, with winds slowing to 14 mph and wave swells dropping around 4 to 5 feet.

In addition to the remote-operated vehicles deployed by Horizon Arctic, a second deep-diving ROV, deployed by the French vessel L'Atalante, was searching for the Titan.

The unified search command led by the Coast Guard has been criticized by industry experts and U.S. lawmakers who say the teams didn't send equipment to the site early enough.

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, president of the Explorers Club, tweeted that members ofthe research group continually offered their expertise and equipment — including a deep-diving ROV with the ability to attach a lift cable to the Titan — but were not approved to send the equipment until Wednesday, putting the estimated arrival time hours behind when the Titan's emergency oxygen supply was due to expire.

When would the sub's oxygen supply have run out?

The Coast Guard said it was first notified of the missing vessel at 5:40 p.m. ET Sunday, nearly three hours after the Titan was expected to resurface.

At the beginning of the search, officials estimated the submersible, if still fully functional, contained about 96 hours of reserve oxygen. At a 1 p.m. ET press conference on Wednesday, the Coast Guard estimated that supply was down to about 20 hours.

That means the oxygen on board the Titan would have run out early Thursday morning, when crews were continuing search-and-rescue efforts on the assumption that the people on board were still alive.

What was the sub's mission?

The missing vessel is owned by OceanGate, a company based in Washington state that's become a major chronicler of the Titanic's decay.

In May, OceanGate shared the first-ever full-size digital scan of the wreck site, which is slowly succumbing to a metal-eating bacteria and at risk of disintegrating in a matter of decades.

For $250,000 a person, the company promises tourists an underwater voyage to explore the remains of the Titanic from the seafloor. From St. John's, explorers travel 380 miles offshore and 2.4 miles below the surface. A full trip can take eight days and include multiple dives.

If successful, the dives offer a glimpse of what's left of the 1912 crash into an iceberg, which took the lives of all but 700 of the Titanic's 2,200 passengers and crew.

Did anyone warn OceanGate that the Titan wasn't safe?

Years before the Titan went missing, OceanGate faced several complaints and warnings about the safety of its submersible vessels.

Records from a 2018 lawsuit show that the company's former director of marine operations, David Lochridge, flagged potential safety issues with the Titan as it was under development in 2015.

Lochridge was particularly concerned about the company's lack of testing on the Titan's 5-inch-thick carbon fiber hull, which employed an experimental design developed in collaboration with NASA. He also said that the Titan's port window was only designed to withstand depths of about 4,200 feet — far shallower than the 13,000-foot depth of the Titanic.

OceanGate responded in legal filings by saying it relied on acoustic testing "better suited" to detect safety issues. The company fired and sued Lochridge, accusing him of breaching his contract.

Separately, but in the same year the lawsuit was settled, the chairman of the Marine Technology Society's Submarine Group wrote a letter to OceanGate saying 38 industry experts had "unanimous concern" about the Titan's lack of adherence to industry standards.

"We have submarines all over the world diving at 12,000 to 20,000 feet every day of the year, for research. We know very well how to design these machines and operate them safely," the chairman, Will Kohnen, told NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday.

How did OceanGate respond to warnings about Titan's safety?

OceanGate has seen at least two documented safety incidents with the Titan after these warnings.

During a 2022 expedition, OceanGate reported that its sub had experienced a battery issue during a dive and had to be manually reattached to its lifting platform, court filings show.

In the same year, the vessel lost contact with its surface crew for nearly five hours during a dive, according to CBS correspondent David Pogue, who was observing the mission for a journalistic report on the company.

Pogue reported that a waiver for passengers of the Titan clearly states the vessel has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body.

Rush, OceanGate's founder, said in a 2019 interview that the commercial submarine industry's regulations stood in the way of progress.

"It's obscenely safe because they have all these regulations," Rush told The Smithsonian Magazine. "But it also hasn't innovated or grown."

NPR's Willem Marx, Ayana Archie and Juliana Kim contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 22, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story omitted Richard Garriott de Cayeux's last name.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.

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