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What Went Wrong With the Titan Submersible?

What went wrong on the Titan submersible's last journey? How did it suffer a catastrophic implosion?

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Video Producers: Vishnu Gopinath, Puneet Bhatia

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

Senior Editor: Namita Handa

What went wrong on the Titan submersible's last journey? How did it suffer a catastrophic implosion?

Billionaire Hamish Harding's last photo, shared on Instagram, was taken just days before his death.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/actionaviationchairman)

On 18 June 2023, billionaire Hamish Harding shared this post on Instagram. Little did he know that this would be the last photo taken of him... and his last ever post on the social media platform...

Four days after this photo was taken, Hamish Harding, along with four others, would be declared dead. All victims of the doomed Titan submersible expedition, which set out to tour the wreckage site of the RMS Titanic.

The passengers onboard the Titan?

British businessman Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, Dawood's son Suleman Dawood, French diver Paul-Henri Nargeole, and founder of OceanGate Expeditions and leader of the expedition, Stockton Rush.

Each seat on the fatal expedition cost a quarter of a million dollars. According to the US Navy, the Titan submersible imploded at some point after it departed on its last journey. 

But how did we get here? What were the risks involved? Was the crew of the Titan submersible fully prepared for the expedition or was it doomed from the start?

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The Titan Submersible, and its mother ship the Polar Prince, left for the site of the RMS Titanic's wreck, from St. John's city in Canada's Newfoundland on Friday, 16 June.

The Titanic's wreck is located around 700 kilometres off the coast of St. John's, at a depth of about 3,800 metres.

The Descent

The submersible's launch, initially scheduled for 3 am on 18 June, only happened four hours later, at 7 am. The reason for the delay was never clarified, but experts believe it was because of declining weather conditions

At 7 am on 18 June, Titan began its descent to the wreck of the RMS Titanic. The descent was supposed to take two hours... but one hour and 45 minutes after it started the descent, Titan ceased all communication with the mothership.

Titan had gone silent.

The Dangers

To truly understand the dangers faced by the crew of Titan, it's important to understand the difference between a submarine and a submersible.

  • A submersible is a part of the submarine family, but is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller. 

  • The second difference between the two is that a submarine is capable of leaving a port, traversing the seas, and returning to land on its own resources.

  • A submarine is self-sufficient and has enough power to complete an expedition and return to land safely on its own resources. A submersible, however, needs a "mother" ship, i.e., a surface vessel to launch from, refuel, and stay in contact with the surface.

  • Submersibles like the Titan, only have enough power and resources for shorter expeditions. While a submarine can stay underwater for weeks, months, and even years, a submersible can only do this for much lesser time, usually a matter of days.

  • Titan was designed to reach depths of 4,000 metres or 13,000 feet. The ocean's pressure at this depth is more than 380 times the atmospheric pressure on the surface. Titan, however, was built to withstand this pressure and conduct inspection, research and data collection. It was also used for film and media production, and deep sea testing of hardware and software.

  • Titan was capable of carrying oxygen and resources for a 96-hour expedition, as deep as 4,000 metres before needing to return to the mothership... but according to the US Coast Guard, Titan may have had oxygen to last anywhere from just 70 hours to the full 96 hours.

  • To complicate matters further, Newfoundland Canada is in the grips of "the worst winter it has witnessed in 40 years". Because of this weather forecast, Titan's expedition was the first and is likely to be the ONLY manned mission to the Titanic's wreck in 2023.

  • Titan, which was scheduled to resurface at 2 pm eastern time, five hours after departure... fails to appear.

  • Nine hours after Titan began its expedition, the US Coast Guard received a report about an overdue submersible from the research vessel Polar Prince, Titan's mothership. Titan was officially missing.

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The Search

By Monday, 19 June, several planes from the US and Canada converged on the Atlantic ocean, dropping sonar buoys capable of monitoring activity at depths of up to 4,000 metres... for ANY signs of Titan.

But searching the ocean is no easy feat.

The Atlantic Ocean is 106,460,000 SQUARE KILOMETRES in size... And the Titan submersible measured just 9 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 22 feet long. Despite help from OceanGate Expeditions, the organiser of the initial expedition, and the US Coast Guard, no signs of Titan were found.

France joined the search, and said it would provide the Atalante, a ship with a deep-sea diving vessel, to aid in the search.

As Tuesday turned to Wednesday, the US Coast Guard confirmed that banging sounds were detected at 30-minute intervals by a Canadian P3 Orion, an Aircraft equipped with technology to trace submarines. The sounds were sent to US Navy experts for analysis while remote search vehicles are sent to the area.

By early Wednesday, the search team had scoured over 20,000 kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean. Barely a dent in the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

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'Catastrophic Implosion'

Thursday, 22 June.

Four days after the Titan went missing, the deadline set by the US Coast Guard for the Titan submersible to run out of air... came and went... Without a trace of the vessel.

Late 22 June, five days after the search began, the US Coast Guard said it had found debris from the Titan submersible below the wreck of the Titanic. Soon after, the Coast Guard confirmed that the Titan submersible had imploded and that the five passengers were believed to be dead.

A catastrophic implosion is said to take place when the internal pressure of a system builds up to excess, and unable to handle the pressure, the system gives way. This could be one possible reason for the implosion onboard Titan.

In an unsettling development, the US Navy said that it had detected an implosion from the area on Sunday, 18 June. The same day that Titan had left on its last journey. So, had all passengers died the same day they had started on the journey?

Could this implosion have been averted? Were safeties overlooked on this expedition? What really went wrong with Titan on its last fateful journey? 

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