A year after the Titan's tragic dive, deep-sea explorers vow to press on

A year after the Titan's tragic dive, deep-sea explorers vow to press on

A year after the Titan's tragic dive, deep-sea explorers vow to press on

The deadly implosion of an experimental submersible en route to the deep-sea grave of the Titanic last June has not dulled the desire for ocean exploration

ByPATRICK WHITTLE Associated Press and HOLLY RAMER Associated Press

June 17, 2024, 12:13 AM

    PORTLAND, Maine -- The deadly implosion of an experimental submersible en route to the deep-sea grave of the Titanic last June has not dulled the desire for further ocean exploration, despite lingering questions about the disaster.

    Tuesday marks one year since the Titan vanished on its way to the historic wreckage site in the North Atlantic Ocean. After a five-day search that captured attention around the world, authorities said the vessel had been destroyed and all five people on board had died.

    Concerns have been raised about whether the Titan was destined for disaster because of its unconventional design and its creator’s refusal to submit to independent checks that are standard in the industry. The U.S. Coast Guard quickly convened a high-level investigation into what happened, but officials said the inquiry is taking longer than the initial 12-month time frame, and a planned public hearing to discuss their findings won’t happen for at least another two months.

    Meanwhile, deep-sea exploration continues. The Georgia-based company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic plans to visit the sunken ocean liner in July using remotely operated vehicles, and a real estate billionaire from Ohio has said he plans a voyage to the shipwreck in a two-person submersible in 2026. Numerous ocean explorers told The Associated Press they are confident undersea exploration can continue safely in a post-Titan world.

    “It's been a desire of the scientific community to get down into the ocean,” said Greg Stone, a veteran ocean explorer and friend of Titan operator Stockton Rush, who died in the implosion. “I have not noticed any difference in the desire to go into the ocean, exploring.”

    OceanGate, a company co-founded by Rush that owned the submersible, suspended operations in early July. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment.

    David Concannon, a former adviser to OceanGate, said he will mark the anniversary privately with a group of people who were involved with the company or the submersible's expeditions over the years, including scientists, volunteers and mission specialists. Many of them, including those who were on the Titan support ship Polar Prince, have not been interviewed by the Coast Guard, he said.

    “The fact is, they are isolated and in a liminal space," he said in an email last week. “Stockton Rush has been vilified and so has everyone associated with OceanGate. I wasn’t even there and I have gotten death threats. We support each other and just wait to be interviewed. The world has moved on ... but the families and those most affected are still living with this tragedy every day.”

    The Titan had been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around the sunken ocean liner in yearly voyages since 2021.

    The craft made its last dive on June 18, 2023, a Sunday morning, and lost contact with its support vessel about two hours later. When it was reported overdue that afternoon, rescuers rushed ships, planes and other equipment to the area, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

    The U.S. Navy notified the Coast Guard that day of an anomaly in its acoustic data that was “consistent with an implosion or explosion” at the time communications between the Polar Prince and the Titan were lost, a senior Navy official later told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

    Any sliver of hope that remained for finding the crew alive was wiped away on June 22, when the Coast Guard announced that debris had been found near the Titanic on the ocean floor. Authorities have since recovered the submersible’s intact endcap, debris and presumed human remains from the site.

    In addition to Rush, the implosion killed two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

    Harding and Nargeolet were members of The Explorers Club, a professional society dedicated to research, exploration and resource conservation.

    “Then, as now, it hit us on a personal level very deeply,” the group’s president, Richard Garriott, said in an interview last week. “We knew not only all the people involved, but even all the previous divers, support teams, people working on all these vessels — those were all either members of this club or well within our network.”

    Garriott believes even if the Titan hadn't imploded, the correct rescue equipment didn't get to the site fast enough. The tragedy caught everyone from the Coast Guard to the ships on site off guard, underscoring the importance of developing detailed search and rescue plans ahead of any expedition, he said. His organization has since created a task force to help others do just that.

    "That’s what we’ve been trying to really correct, to make sure that we know exactly who to call and exactly what materials need to be mustered,” he said.

    Garriott believes the world is in a new golden age of exploration thanks to technological advances that have opened frontiers and provided new tools to more thoroughly study already visited places. The Titanic tragedy hasn’t tarnished that, he said.

    Veteran deep-sea explorer Katy Croff Bell agrees. The Titan implosion reinforced the importance of following industry standards and performing rigorous testing, but in the industry as a whole, “the safety track record for this has been very good for several decades,” said Bell, president of Ocean Discovery League, a nonprofit organization focused on making deep-sea investigation less expensive and more accessible.

    Garriott said there will be a remembrance celebration for the Titan victims this week in Portugal at the annual Global Exploration Summit.

    “Progress continues,” he said. “I actually feel very comfortable and confident that we will now be able to proceed.”

    ___

    Ramer reported from Concord, New Hampshire.

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