Titan Submersible Incident 2023 | Catastrophic Implosion

An unfortunate tragedy occurred a few days ago when five people entered a submersible named ‘Titan,’ owned by the company OceanGate, to explore the Titanic wreckage but ended up getting lost and losing their lives. This news quickly went viral, raising several questions: What exactly happened? What went wrong? Is it safe to explore the seas? And, most importantly, could this incident have been prevented? Read this Article to find out the answers!

On 18th June 2023, at 9.30 am, 5 people sat in a Titan submersible and dove into the sea. They were going to see the wreck of the Titanic. The same historical ship Titanic had sunk into the sea about 100 years ago. This is an extreme form of adventure tourism and it is very expensive. 

Each person sitting in the submarine had spent more than ₹20 million for a few hours of this tour. This trip is so expensive because the Titanic’s wreck is hidden deep in the sea. Specifically speaking, 3,810 meters below the surface of the water. This submarine started its journey under the water. It takes about 2 hours to reach the depth of 3,810 meters. 

At every 15-minute interval, this submarine sends a signal to the support ship on the surface of the sea, named the Polar Prince. For them, this was the only communication channel with the world. 

Polar Prince

On that day, 18th June, it had been only 1 hour and 45 minutes of this submarine’s dive into the sea that suddenly it loses contact with the support ship on the sea. At 4.30 pm by the time when the submarine should have come back up after its tour, there is no sign of it.

At 7:10 pm, the team in Polar Prince decided to inform the US Coast Guard. And from here, a 4-day-long multinational search began. A large-scale search and rescue operation is carried out to find this submarine. Aircraft, ships, and robot vehicles were also used. Everyone had only one question in their mind. What happened to these passengers?

 Now let’s understand the whole story of The Titan Submersible. The place where this submarine disappeared is in the Atlantic Ocean near Canada. Look at the map. 

600 km away from Newfoundland, a Canadian island. At this place, in the depths of the water, you will find the wreck of the Titanic, broken into two parts. The bow and the stern both lie about 800 meters away from each other. 

The Titan submarine that disappeared here was not a submarine but a submersible. These two words are very similar to each other. So, till now, I was using the word submarine to simplify things, but there is a very important difference between these two words. 

Submarines have their own power. They can use a port to go into the sea and come out of the sea independently. 

But submersibles cannot do that. To launch a submersible into the water and for it to come back, a support ship is needed. A ship that is present on the surface of the water and is controlling everything. In our case, this support ship was the Polar Prince. 

This entire operation was run by a company called OceanGate, whose CEO was Stockton Rush. Remember their name because he plays an important role in the story. By profession, he had been an aerospace engineer. And in 2009, he founded the OceanGate company. A private company whose purpose was to take rich people on deep sea expeditions as tourism. 

This company started offering Titanic tours in July 2021. Before this, they offered tours of other shipwrecks and areas. As you can still see on their website, apart from the Titanic, there were expeditions to Azores and Bahamas. Titan was not the only submersible of this company. Apart from this, Ocean Gate had two other submersibles, Antipodes and Cyclops

Antipodes could go up to a depth of 304 m, and Cyclops up to 500 m.

Antipodes

304 meters (997 feet)

Cyclops

500 meters (1,640 feet)

But Titan was designed to go down 4,000 m( 4 km underwater). This is why this was the only submersible to go to the Titanic. 

Titan

4000 meters (13,123 feet)

To visualize the frightening depth of 3,800 m, look at this chart:

Measurements are in feet here. Normally, a man’s height is 6 feet. The iceberg that collided with the Titanic was 100 feet above the surface of the water and several times that underwater. 130 feet is the maximum depth that recreational scuba divers can go to while scuba diving. After 650 feet, a twilight zone area starts where only a small amount of light can penetrate the depths of the water. 1,600 feet was the depth of the deepest-ever underwater rescue operation conducted to date. 2,600 feet is the depth where giant squids swim. 

Giant squids are so scary that they look like they have come from an alien planet. Look at the photos. 

Image credit: Google
Image credit: Google
Image credit: Google

If you go further down, a midnight zone starts after 3,800 feet. No sunlight reaches below this mark. Everything turns black after this. The water temperature here is around 4°C. Now, if you go further down from here, 5,000 feet, 6,000 feet, 8,000 feet, 10,000 feet, and then you finally reach 12,500 feet, here is the ocean floor, where the Titanic wreck is lying. 

The pressure at this depth is almost 400 times the pressure on the surface. So, whichever submersible goes to this depth, its design should be thoroughly thought out. The glass for looking outside, the size of the window could be only this big. And the window in the Titan submersible, which is called a viewport, was the biggest viewport that had been installed in any private submersible to date. 

The Titan submersible was not that big. It had the capacity to seat only 5 people. Its main body, which is called the Hull, was made of carbon fiber. Two caps were attached at the end, which were made of titanium. And the total length of it was approximate. And it weighed more than 10,400 kg. 

In its design, as you can see, there were four electric thrusters outside. Two horizontal and two vertical, through which it could be operated. Now, an interesting fact to be noted here, this sub was controlled by a video game controller. This is not as weird as it sounds. Because the US Navy also controls their submarines and the periscopes the viewports to see outside, they control them with Xbox controllers

But yes, the entire submarine, Titan, was being controlled with a video game controller. This means that the pilot who was operating the submersible in the water was also using this video game controller. If you look at the inside, there were no seats to sit inside it. But a small toilet was provided, which was beside the viewport. But there was no barrier to the toilet. 

Because these submersibles go so deep into the water, the GPS doesn’t work here. The communication to their support ship was carried on through a text messaging system. It is still unclear which internet connection was available on the ship. 

In this tweet from a few backs, OceanGate had said that they were using Starlink’s satellite internet service to communicate. 

If we come back to this story of 18th June, then 5 people were on board this submersible that day. 

The first was 58-year-old British billionaire, Hamish Harding. He was an adventurer and a 3-time Guinness World Record holder. In 2016, he went to the South Pole with astronaut Buzz Aldrin. At one time, he did a 4-hour dive into the deepest part of the ocean, Mariana Trench. And last year, he was part of the Blue Origin suborbital flight which was started by the space exploration company of Jeff Bezos. 

The second passenger was Paul Henri Nargeolet, 77 years old. A former commander of the French Navy. He had visited the Titanic wreck 37 times. He was the director of underwater research for the RMS Titanic. 

The third and fourth passengers were a British-Pakistani businessman, Shahzada Dawood, and his 19-year-old son, Suleman. He was the owner of one of the biggest companies in Pakistan. Suleman’s aunt had said that Suleman was actually scared of going. But he went with his father to please him and to give him company on this journey. 

And the Fifth passenger was Stockton Rush, a British businessman, who founded OceanGate in 2009 and served as the organization’s CEO.

As I told you, that day, the submersible was communicating with the support ship at every 15-minute interval. This communication stopped at 11:15 AM. After this, no communication, and no signal is received.

Despite this, it was expected that the Titan would resurface at 4:30 PM, as scheduled. Because if by chance, this submersible would get stuck in the water, there was a way for the passengers to tilt it from inside and push it back and forth to bring it back up. This is done by removing the ballasts. 

Ballasts are an important part of big ships and submarines to provide stability. They are nothing more than heavyweights. With their help, submarines can descend into the water. In the olden days, stones and sandbags were used as ballasts. But today, submarines use water ballasts. Ballast tanks are filled with water so that the weight increases and the submarines sink into the water.

 At 4:30 PM, when the Titan did not resurface, people in the support ship waited for a while and then notified the US Coast Guard at 7:10 PM. After this, began the great race, The race against time

Also Read: Mystery of Titanic || How the World’s Greatest Ship Disappeared?

96 hours, only 4 days of oxygen supply was available in Titan. So if a rescue operation had to be conducted, they only had 4 days to find the passengers alive. Often an emergency locator is installed on ships, which is called Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, EPIRB. With the help of this, these vessels can be located. But it was not installed in Titan. 

Here, another problem was that even if Titan would have come back to the surface of the sea, people sitting inside it would have died due to the lack of oxygen. Because there was no way to open this submersible from the inside. You heard it right. The door of this submersible could only be locked from the outside and opened from the outside. So whether the submersible was inside the water or on the surface, those 4 days were very critical. 

On top of it, the search area was 25,000 km. Imagine how difficult it is to find a van-sized submersible in such a huge area. The area was 7 times bigger than the state of Goa. And the deepest underwater rescue that has been done so far was only done at a depth of 480 meters underwater in 1973. 

But still, the rescue teams put their lives at stake. Initially, two American and two Canadian aircraft started this operation. Sonar was deployed by them so that they could detect signals even from underwater. Three ships started the search from the surface, but as time passed, more ships started coming in for the search operation. 

Some Remotely operated vehicles, i.e. ROVs were also used here. Think of them as basically a robot-type vehicle, no one sits inside them, but they can dive into the water and find things. And they are controlled from the surface of the water. Three ROVs were searching for Titan. 

After 3 days of searching, on the 3rd day of the search operation, a sonar from a Canadian aircraft heard some banging noises. At half-hour intervals, some sounds were heard, like someone knocking on the door. Later, the US Coast Guard also heard the sounds. 

Finally, on 22nd June, an ROV searching on the ocean floor encountered some debris. Around 490 meters away from the Titanic’s bow. It was confirmed upon seeing the debris that

the submersible had broken apart. The people who sitting inside it had lost their lives. After searching some more, 5 pieces of debris were found in total. 

On the same day, the US Coast Guard confirmed in a press conference that the banging noises they heard had nothing to do with this Titan submersible. 

Also Read: Unraveling the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle | Fact or Fiction

Actually, the conclusion that was derived was that Titan imploded due to high pressure. You might be thinking that Implosion means bursting. But it is actually the opposite of an explosion. We use the word explosion when there is an outbreak or eruption like a bomb explosion. The force moves outwards.

But the force of an implosion moves inwards. Breaking apart due to being squeezed in. That is Implosion. 

And catastrophic implosion means that the implosion happened so fast that the entire structure was destroyed but it didn’t even take a millisecond. This means that the people sitting in it were killed immediately in the blink of an eye but they didn’t feel it. The question here is what was the reason behind this implosion?

Actually, the main body of the Titan, as I said, it was made of carbon fiber. But usually, submarines and submersibles are made of steel, titanium, or aluminum. This carbon fiber design of Titan was an experimental design.

No one had ever tested the properties of carbon fiber in such depths of the ocean before. And looking at this disaster, we can say that carbon fiber is not a suitable material for this use case.

As said by an ocean explorer, Robert Ballard. The man who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. He said that they have done thousands of dives in different vehicles to get to the bottom of the ocean. But they have never lost a vehicle. This was the first time that a submarine or a submersible imploded in this way.

James Cameron, the director of famous films like Titanic and Avatar, has been to the deep sea many times for various expeditions. He said the same thing. The caps of titanium were still intact on the sea floor unharmed. But the main body of carbon fiber is now scattered in pieces. He strongly criticized Titan saying that safety regulations were not followed. 

If you see the old interviews of OceanGate company’s CEO, you will hear the same thing again and again. In 2019, a long article was published in Smithsonian Magazine, in which the CEO was talking about OceanGate. 

He(Stockton Rush) said that “The (US) Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993 was needlessly prioritizing passenger safety over commercial innovation.” He felt that this act is useless and that there is no need to pay so much attention to safety. In another interview last year, he said, “At some point, safety just is pure waste. I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed, don’t get in your car, don’t do anything.”

After this, he(Stockton Rush) says, “I’ve broken some rules to make Titan. I think I’ve broken them with logic and good engineering behind me.”

The rule stated that carbon fiber and titanium were not to be used. But he used them, broke the rule, intentionally. Stockton Rush knew that he was conducting an experiment that could be very dangerous.

In January 2018, OceanGate’s Director of Marine Operations, David Lochridge, had actually mentioned safety concerns about Titan Submersible. And when OceanGate did not pay any heed to the warnings, he went to court with it. In the court, he stated that there should be a safety assessment and certification of this submersible. But OceanGate refused.

He(Stockton Rush) said that this company was not interested in spending money on safety. The legal battle in the court was eventually settled later in 2018.

But on 27th March 2018, 36 people wrote a letter to Stockton Rush. The letter was written by industry leaders, deep sea explorers, oceanographers, and other people. They said that the experimental approach being taken not getting things quality checked, can lead to a terrible accident someday.

In March 2018, another deep sea exploration specialist had written an email to the CEO to be a little conservative about safety. He had written that Rush was putting himself and his clients in danger. In the race to reach the Titanic, Rush was accused of repeating the same phrase. “She is unsinkable.”

If you’d recall, I told you in the Titanic article that people used to blindly believe that

the ship was so great that it can never sink. That it was unsinkable. But on that ill-fated day, the ship sank. And now, the same happened with the Titan.

In the pages of history, the name of Stockton Rush has now been included in this list. List of inventors who were killed by their own inventions. 

This teaches us that safety standards and regulations should never be ignored.

FAQs: About Titan Submersible Incident 2023

When did the Titan submarine implode?

The Titan submarine imploded on June 18, 2023, during its descent in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Where did the Titan submarine implode?

The Titan submarine imploded about 370 nautical miles (690 km) off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

How many people were on board the Titan submarine when it imploded?

There were five people on board the Titan submarine when it imploded: the pilot, two tourists, and two crew members.

What was the cause of the Titan submarine implosion?

The cause of the Titan submarine implosion is still under investigation, but experts believe that it may have been caused by a catastrophic failure of the sub’s pressure hull. This could have been due to a number of factors, such as a structural defect, a collision with an object on the ocean floor, or a sudden change in pressure.

When was the wreckage of the Titan submarine found?

The wreckage of the Titan submarine was found on June 23, 2023, about 1,600 feet (488 m) from the Titanic wreck.

Were any of the passengers on board the Titan submarine found alive?

No, none of the passengers on board the Titan submarine were found alive. All five were pronounced dead at the scene.

What are the ongoing investigations into the Titan submarine implosion?

There are several ongoing investigations into the Titan submarine implosion. The US Navy is investigating the acoustic data that it detected on the day of the implosion. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also investigating the incident, and OceanGate, the company that operated the submersible, is conducting its own internal investigation.

What are the safety regulations for submersibles?

Submersibles are subject to a number of safety regulations, both international and national. These regulations cover a wide range of topics, including design, construction, operation, and maintenance. The specific regulations that apply to a particular submersible will depend on a number of factors, such as the submersible’s size, purpose, and operating environment.

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