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

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
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Getty Images
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.

Updated June 22, 2023 at 3:05 PM ET

All five passengers aboard the missing Titan submersible are believed to have died, according to OceanGate.

"We now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, have sadly been lost," the company said in a statement on Thursday evening.

Earlier in the day rescue teams hunting for a missing Titanic-touring submersible uncovered a field of debris near the site of the wrecked ocean liner, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Thursday.

"Experts within the unified command are evaluating the information," the Coast Guard said, implying that more information would be shared at a media briefing today at 3 p.m. ET.

Remote-operated vehicles were searching for the sub, called Titan, near the site where a surveillance aircraft first detected "underwater noises" late Tuesday.

Here's a guide to what we know.

What do we know about the debris field?

The U.S. 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.

Other than that, there's not much known about the U.S. Coast Guard's findings. 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 U.S. 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."

The U.S. Coast Guard and other experts with knowledge of the search warned that the sounds may not necessarily be proof of life.

"You have to remember that it's the wreck site of the Titanic, so there is a lot of metal and different objects in the water around the site," Rear Adm. John Mauger said in an interview with CBS News on Wednesday morning.

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 U.S. Coast Guard says that the data from the Canadian aircraft, known as a P-3 Orion, is nevertheless serving 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 — has complicated efforts to locate the vessel and its passengers. Thursday's weather, at least, may prove more favorable to search crews, with winds slowing to 14 mph and wave swells dropping around 4 to 5 feet.

In addition to the ROV deployed by Horizon Arctic, a second deep-diving ROV, deployed by the French vessel L'Atalante, was searching for the Titan as of Thursday morning.

En route is the U.S. Navy's Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System (FADOSS), a motion-compensated lift system which can lift heavy undersea objects.

The design of the Titan means that only those outside the vessel can unseal it, so regardless of whether it rises to the surface or not, the passengers will require outside help to escape.

The Canadian ship Glace Bay, which contains a mobile decompression chamber and is staffed with medical personnel, is also expected to arrive Thursday.

The unified search command led by the U.S. 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 is due to expire.

The experience of Pelagic Research Services, the group that provided the ROV aboard Horizon Arctic, shows the time-consuming nature of getting specialized equipment to the deep sea.

In a statement provided to NPR, Pelagic said it was contacted by the search team on Monday, assembled its ROV crew and equipment within 23 hours, received U.S. Air Force transport to St. John's in Newfoundland, Canada, mobilized onto the Canadian ship Horizon Arctic, and still only was able to deploy their ROV by early Thursday morning.

The ROV uncovered the debris field within hours of that deployment.

When will the sub's oxygen supply run out?

At the beginning of the search on Sunday, 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 the oxygen on board the Titan may have run out early Thursday morning.

But U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick said that's only "one factor" in what is still "a search-and-rescue operation, 100 percent."

"We need to have hope," he said in the Wednesday media briefing. He added that he wasn't ready to speculate about when the search efforts might end.

On Thursday morning, Mauger said that crews would continue their efforts throughout the day on the assumption that the people on board are still alive.

"In all of our search and rescue efforts that the Coast Guard does every day, we use all available data and information to prosecute those searches," the Rear Adm. said in an interview with NBC. "But we continue to find, especially in complex cases, that people's will to live needs to be accounted for as well."

When and where did the sub go missing?

Titan lost contact with its support ship — a Canadian research vessel called Polar Prince — an hour and 45 minutes after it first entered the water on Sunday around 8 a.m. ET.

At that point, it was already more than halfway down to the Titanic's wreck on the Atlantic's ocean bed, roughly 900 miles east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The Coast Guard said it was first notified of the missing vessel at 5:40 p.m. ET, nearly three hours after the Titan was expected to resurface at 3 p.m. ET.

Who was on board?

The people on board Titan include pilot Stockton Rush, the head of OceanGate, the company that developed the submersible; Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French underwater wreck expert who has written about the Titanic and visited the wreck dozens of times; a British entrepreneur Hamish Harding; and father-son Pakistani nationals Shahzada and Suleman Dawood.

A former passenger of the Titan described the vessel as like being in a "minivan without seats" and says its interior design relies on "off-the-shelf parts," including a video game controller for steering.

What was the sub's mission?

The OceanGate logo is seen on a vehicle stored near the company's offices on Wednesday in Everett, Wash. The company owns the submersible that has been missing since Sunday.
David Ryder / Getty Images
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Getty Images
The OceanGate logo is seen on a vehicle stored near the company's offices on Wednesday in Everett, Wash. The company owns the submersible that has been missing since Sunday.

The missing vessel is owned by OceanGate, a company based in Washington 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.

OceanGate's founder, who is reportedly on board the missing Titan, 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.
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
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.