As the families of the five men who lost their lives on the Titan submersible grieve, the focus has turned to finding out what caused the "catastrophic implosion" believed to have killed the explorers.
The U.S. Coast Guard said yesterday that debris had been discovered on the ocean floor near the bow of the wrecked Titanic after a frantic international search in the North Atlantic.
A U.S. Navy analysis of acoustic data had “detected an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion” near the Titan around the time it lost communications Sunday, a senior Navy official said. The sound was not definitive, but it was immediately shared with commanders, who decided to keep searching, the official said.
The investigation will now turn to determining what caused the implosion as questions remain about the fate of the submersible and the search that captivated people around the world.
What to know about the search for answers
- The submersible disappeared Sunday during a mission to survey the wreckage of the Titanic, which is 900 nautical miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
- The Coast Guard said Thursday that a "debris field" had been found in the search area, later saying the debris found on the ocean floor was "consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel."
- Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the company behind the mission; British billionaire Hamish Harding, the owner of Action Aviation; French dive expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet; and prominent Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, are all presumed dead.
- In the days before the Titan's mission, Suleman, 19, said he felt "terrified" about the journey, his aunt said in an interview with NBC News yesterday.
What was the ‘catastrophic implosion’ like for the passengers?
The five people aboard the Titan submersible most likely died instantaneously in what officials called a “catastrophic implosion.”
The deep-sea water pressure that appears to have crushed the 22-foot craft would have been roughly equivalent in weight to the 10,000-ton, wrought-iron Eiffel Tower, experts told NBC News today.
The colossal forces would have acted so quickly that it would be like the vehicle’s carbon-fiber hull “suddenly vanishing” before anyone inside knew what was happening, one expert said.
“They would have known nothing — the minute this body of water hit them, they would have been dead,” said Paul White, a professor at England’s University of Southampton, who specializes in underwater acoustics and forces.
Las Vegas businessman and son backed out of Titan trip over safety concerns
Las Vegas businessman Jay Bloom and his son Sean, 20, were supposed to be on the tragic Titan voyage that imploded.
In a horrifying parallel, they believe their seats were taken by prominent Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, 19.
Bloom said OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush contacted him a year ago to tell him about the opportunity to visit the wreckage of the Titanic. Bloom said he wanted to go with his son, who was a fan of the iconic sunken ship.
“My son and his friend raised a lot of concerns about what kind of marine life we’re going to run into, there’s really no escape plan if something goes wrong,” Bloom told NBC News today.
The father was also concerned about the Titan's hatch, which could be opened only from the outside, and the hull's carbon fiber material, which reacts differently to pressure than steel.
Rush assured him the journey was “safer than flying a helicopter, safer than crossing the street,” Bloom recalled.
Two planned voyages were canceled in May because of the weather and rescheduled to June 18, and Bloom ultimately decided they couldn't make it.
“I was just not comfortable with the kind of resources that he had to pull this off, that it could be done safely,” Bloom said. “Looking back, I’m very relieved and glad that my son and I did not go, just feel terrible for the people who did.”
Sean said he’s grateful his father listened to his concerns.
“The more I stared to think about it, I was like, 'I don’t think this is a good idea,'" he said. “It’s really tragic. It’s crazy that the two people that took our seats were in a very similar situation, father-son. I can’t believe it happened.”
The Blooms said Rush had visited them to talk about the mission, traveling in a small plane he had built himself.
“I love the confidence in his inventions, but he built a plane by hand and flew it," Sean Bloom said. "No way am I getting on a submarine to the bottom of the ocean, which is way more dangerous than flying an experimental plane."
Jay Bloom, who shared text messages on Facebook that he exchanged with Rush, remembered the CEO as a “good man with a good heart” who “believed in what he was doing and just wanted to share his passion.”
NTSB to assist in Titan investigation, source says
The U.S. Coast Guard has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to assist in the investigation into Titan's implosion, a source close to the investigation told NBC News today.
The NTSB's office of Marine Safety, in conjunction with the Coast Guard, will attempt to find the potential cause of the deep-sea catastrophe, the source said.
The Coast Guard will be the lead agency in the investigation.
Time to consider ending visits to Titanic wreck, Titanic International Society says
“Titanic has claimed five additional victims 111 years after her loss,” Charles Haas, the president of the Titanic International Society, said following the deaths of the five people on board Titan.
“It is time to consider seriously whether human trips to Titanic’s wreck should end in the name of safety, with relatively little remaining to be learned from or about the wreck," he said, noting further surveying can be left to autonomous underwater vehicles.
He called for an “extensive” investigation into the implosion, the submersible’s design and safety, and deep-sea rescue systems.
“Intensive pre-service inspection of deep-sea submersibles should be required by international regulation," he added. " Just as Titanic taught the world safety lessons, so, too, should Titan’s loss."
Titan passengers share accounts of safety issues on the sub's past expeditions
The Titan was touted as a groundbreaking submersible that could give tourists the extraordinary chance to visit the deep-sea grave of the Titanic — but past passengers have shared chilling accounts of safety issues, communication failures and design concerns.
The 21-foot, carbon fiber and titanium submersible fit five people, with no seats and a curtained-off area for a makeshift bathroom.
Brian Weed, 42, a camera operator for Discovery Channel’s “Expedition Unknown,” did a test dive on the Titan in May 2021 and said, “The moment we started the test dive, things started going wrong.”
The submersible descended, but not all the way to the shipwreck. The launch was “clumsy,” and less than a quarter of the dive in, “there were malfunctions with the propulsion system,” leaving the passengers like “sitting ducks in the water,” Weed said.
But it was the allure of the Titanic — the ocean liner that sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912 — that drew him to the project.
Shahzada Dawood's relationship with son was a 'joy to behold,' obituary says
The relationship between Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son, Suleman, was a "joy to behold," an obituary from the father and son's family says.
"With profound sorrow, we mourn the tragic loss of Shahzada and his beloved son, Suleman, who had embarked on a journey to visit the remnants of the legendary Titanic in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean," the obituary, shared by The British Asian Trust, says. "In this unfathomable tragedy, we try to find solace in the enduring legacy of humility and humanity that they have left behind and find comfort in the belief that they passed on to the next leg of their spiritual journey hand-in-hand, father and son," it says.
"The relationship between Shahzada and Suleman was a joy to behold; they were each other’s greatest supporters and cherished a shared passion for adventure and exploration of all the world had to offer them," it says.
The family remembered Shahzada Dawood as someone who was "passionate about philanthropy and giving back because above all, he cared deeply about people and human development."
Suleman was remembered as someone who loved science fiction literature and volleyball, but whose "greatest quality was the humility he espoused which was a true reflection of his parents’ upbringing."
19-year-old Titan passenger was ‘terrified’ before trip, his aunt says
In the days before the Titan vessel went into the ocean off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, the 19-year-old university student accompanying his father on the expedition expressed hesitation about going, his aunt said in an interview Thursday.
Azmeh Dawood — the older sister of Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood — told NBC News that her nephew, Suleman, informed a relative that he “wasn’t very up for it” and felt “terrified” about the trip to explore the wreckage of the Titanic.
But the 19-year-old ended up going aboard OceanGate’s 22-foot submersible because the trip fell over Father’s Day weekend and he was eager to please his dad, who was passionate about the lore of the Titanic, according to Azmeh.
Implosion 'like crushing a can of Coca-Cola,' ex-Coast Guard commander says
As investigators look for answers on what caused the apparent implosion, experts are weighing in on what might have unfolded.
"From my understanding, the submersible imploded. In other words, the force of the water was so strong that it blew the back and the front of the submersible off," said Armin Cate, a former Commander in the United States Coast Guard Reserve and retired Senior Special Agent with the Department of Homeland Security.
"When you crush that tube in the middle it’s like crushing a can of Coca-Cola you might say," Cate said.
He said that in such an incident, "bolts are going to come free. And so the fact that they found the front cap and the back and different parts of the bottom and the middle tube no longer was connected to them tells me that’s what happened."
"And it appears to me that both the front and the rear cap were blown out about the same time. So, it was a catastrophic failure due to the outside pressure of the water ... on the actual hull or the canned part of the submersible."
Study of wreck could help us 'learn from this tragedy,' expert says
Learning what exactly happened in the suspected implosion of the Titan could help us "learn from this tragedy," a former Coast Guard Reserve commander said.
Armin Cate, a former commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and retired senior special agent with the Department of Homeland Security said the mission the Titan embarked on was much "like going to the moon."
"The only difference is in the moon you don’t have that type of pressure," he said. "The remoteness of this location combined with the pressure of the water, there’s just so many points of failure that could occur."
"I think that’s why they’re trying to retrieve these objects so they can study them so they can determine you know where the weak areas were, so that people can learn from this tragedy and be able to make stronger more capable vehicles in the future," he said.
Organization launched by King Charles pays tribute to Dawood
Prince’s Trust International, a charitable organization founded by King Charles III, has paid tribute to Shahzada Dawood, who served as an adviser to the organization. His father, Hussain, was also one of the trust’s founding patrons.
“We are deeply saddened by this terrible news. Prince’s Trust International has had a longstanding relationship with Shahzada Dawood and his family, and we have valued their support of our work in Pakistan for many years," the organization said. "Our thoughts are with Shahzada’s family and all those on board at this immensely tragic time."
Dawood had been an advisor to Prince’s Trust International in various capacities, including work on its Global Advisory Board, with a focus on the organization's work in Pakistan, the group said.
Both he and his son, Suleman, were presumed dead in the submersible disaster.
Canadian assistance with 'recovery and salvage' under discussion
The "extent of Canadian assistance with recovery and salvage" was being discussed on Thursday, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the Canadian Armed Forces said in a statement.
Offering "sincere condolences to the family and friends of the crew of the Titan for their tragic loss," they said: "This is a truly unfortunate outcome that concludes the great efforts and cooperation between countries, militaries and partners."
With the operation "transitioning to recovery and salvage," they said that "all JRCC rescue assets will return to base to regenerate search and rescue capability and prepare for future search and rescue events."
Explorers might not have had 'time to realize what happened,' expert says
The five people who died on the Titan may not have "had the time to realize what happened" if the submersible imploded as believed, an expert said.
If the vessel did implode, it would likely have essentially "exploded inwards in a matter of a thousandth of a second," Will Kohnen, chairman of peer-review group Marine Technology Society’s committee on manned submersibles, told Reuters.
"And it’s probably a mercy because that was probably a kinder end than the unbelievably difficult situation of being four days in a cold, dark and confined space," he said. "So, this would have happened very quickly. I don’t think anybody even had the time to realize what happened," he said.
Photo: Titan search vessels seen from space
Satellite images courtesy of Maxar Technologies show deep-sea recovery vessels searching for the OceanGate Titan submersible near the Titanic wreck site on Thursday.
From top: The Canadian Horizon Arctic, Bahamian vessel Deep Energy and Canadian registered Skandi Vinland.
Friend of Rush describes the appeal of extreme adventures
It’s not for everyone but, for a certain type of adventurer, descending to the depths of the ocean inside a small and cramped vessel means “doing something extraordinary,” a friend of two of the people aboard the missing Titan submersible told NBC News Thursday.
Per Wimmer, who describes himself as an astronaut, adventurer, explorer, philanthropist, global financier, author and private island owner, operates in those circles.
The Danish national, 54, said in a telephone interview that he is friends with Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate, the company that chartered the submersible, and British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding, who were among the five aboard the vessel.
Describing them as “adventurers,” Wimmer said they tried to “test the boundaries” and “do something extraordinary.”
Focus turns to determining what caused 'catastrophic implosion'
The dayslong search for Titan has come to a devastating end as officials turn their focus to what caused the "catastrophic implosion" believed to have killed the five people onboard.
The U.S. Coast Guard said on Thursday that debris discovered in the search for the sub was consistent with a catastrophic explosion. The debris was found off the bow of the sunken Titanic, officials said.
A U.S. Navy analysis of acoustic data had “detected an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion” near the Titan around the time it lost communications, a senior Navy official said. The sound was not definitive, but it was immediately shared with commanders, who decided to keep searching, the official said.