For a group of wealthy adventurers, it was the greatest trip money could buy.
And the thrilling prospect of seeing the Titanic first-hand dispelled any fears they had about plunging two and a half miles into the icy depths of the Atlantic in a submarine.
The so-called ‘unsinkable’ ship, which sank in 1912 with the loss of 1,500 lives on its maiden voyage, has long fascinated explorers.
But it was only this decade that paying passengers got the chance to see the wreck of the Titanic for themselves – on a submarine tour.
At $250,000 (£195,000) a seat, tickets aren’t cheap – and far from ordinary tourists, so-called citizen explorers are expected to play an active role in research missions at maritime heritage sites.
A photo of Oceangate’s ‘Mission 3 and Mission 4 crew’, posted online by the company ahead of the launch
This is the last sighting of the submersible, Titan, which was launched on Sunday. Hamish Harding is seen in a photo shared by his company. He and four others on board remain unaccounted for
OceanGate Expeditions, which has been running Titanic tours for three years, said earlier this year: ‘We are really inspired. [passengers’] A sense of adventure, amazing life experiences and a willingness to jump right in.’
It said this year’s Titanic survey expedition would allow ‘a select number of people to explore the ship that was once the height of opulence, but whose journey would end in tragedy’.
The research vessel Titan is a miniature submarine described as the world’s only carbon-fiber submersible capable of submerging five people. A pilot, a ‘content expert’ and three paying guests are believed to have been taken to the seabed. The company advertises it as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to ‘safely dive into the wreck of the Titanic’ on a ‘journey 12,500 feet below the sea floor’.
The 22-foot-long submarine has a domed window at the front where guests can sit and enjoy the views. Behind it are the pilot’s controls and primary seating for guests. On a FAQ page on OceanGate Expeditions’ website, passengers are urged to ‘limit your eating habits’ before sailing but, for those who need it, there is a small toilet located in the forward dome, the ‘best seat in the house’.
Clients are told that ‘if money is no object and you don’t mind’ they can join either trip.
Past explorers include James Cameron, director of the 1997 Hollywood blockbuster Titanic starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, the firm says. OceanGate Expeditions, a US-based not-for-profit company, adds that it is dedicated to exploring the world beneath the ocean and provides ‘rare opportunities for citizen explorers and researchers to work together to expand our understanding of our home, Earth’.
So with that in mind, last Friday, June 16, a group of a dozen or so paying explorers set sail from Polar Prince, Canada’s St. John’s Harbor, Newfoundland, into the wild North Atlantic, 350 miles from the chartered ship’s submarine-launched star wreck. sailed and took turns to spend eight days aboard the Titanic to complete the eight-hour submarine mission.
Pictures posted online showed ominous stormy gray seas, with billionaire British guest Hamish Harding, 58, saying it was the ‘worst winter in 40 years’. At 4am local time on Sunday, there was supposedly a ‘weather window’ and the submarine was launched. Mr Harding’s airline tweeted: ‘The sub has been successfully launched and Hamish is currently diving. Stay tuned for more updates!’
OceanGate Expeditions is the only company that offers tours. Tickets cost up to $250,000
See what it’s like inside the OceanGate expedition to see the Titanic
On April 10, 1912, Titanic left Southampton, Britain, on her maiden and final voyage.
A view of the wreck of the Titanic from a submersible
Leading up to the trip, OceanGate said: ‘Our crew has been diligently preparing our equipment and updating our checklist for the 2023 Titanic expedition, but we always look forward to new challenges.
‘Luckily for us we hired an icebreaker as our expedition ship! Polar Prince … has a long history of clearing ice from harbors and guiding ships through ice-choked marine environments.’
The submarine, which had 96 hours of air, is designed to automatically surface in case of trouble and maintains communication with surface ships via an Internet connection powered by Elon Musk’s Starlink system. But Mr Harding lost contact an hour and 45 minutes into his mission.
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