111 years ago, the Titanic went down roughly 640kms off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. In 2023, five people entered the OceanGate Titan submersible to follow its journey into the depths. Those people did not come back.
In the early hours of June 23, local time, OceanGate released a press statement confirming that all five of the crew had died.
“We now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, have sadly been lost,” the statement read.
In a press conference, the US Coast Guard announced that they had found a “debris field” indicating a “catastrophic failure” of the Titan. The Titan is believed to be at the bottom of the ocean, some 487 metres from the bow of the Titanic itself.
— OceanGate Expeditions (@OceanGateExped) June 22, 2023
A major search and rescue operation, which has been underway since Monday, captivated the world in the hope that the five passengers would be found and brought to the surface safely.
It now appears that the Titan did not sink, trapping the passengers on board with limited oxygen, but that the submarine imploded 1 hour and 45 minutes into its descent. The massive decompression would have instantly killed everyone on board.
Condolences and tributes have been paid to the people on board the submarine. James Cameron, director of Titanic and Avatar, was a friend of PH Nargeolet, one of the passengers.
“For him to have died tragically in this way is almost impossible for me to process.”
Cameron himself has made 33 dives to the Titanic and one to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. The director said that major concerns about the safety of the Titan were known long before the disaster.
“I’m struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship, and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field,” Cameron said.
‘Titanic’ director James Cameron on the ‘catastrophic implosion’ of Titan submersible: “I’m struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field." pic.twitter.com/vO8JkCXS5f
— ABC News (@ABC) June 22, 2023
In what looks to be a cruel twist of irony, over a century later, another ship thought to be unsinkable has claimed five lives as they attempted to see the remains of the first.
Here’s why attempting to see the Titanic is something that few people have done.
Titanic Shipwreck Location
The Titanic sunk a little over five days into its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic Ocean. The exact coordinates of the sinking are 41°43.5’N 49°56.8.W. The shipwreck location is almost exactly 600kms from the nearest point on land. The aptly named ‘Mistaken Point’ is north-northwest of the Titanic shipwreck.
The ship left from Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912 and was due to arrive in New York City, US, on 17 April.
At 11:40pm on 14 April, an iceberg was sighted directly ahead of the ship, which the crew tried to avoid. The ship struck the iceberg, buckling, and taking on water. At 2:20am on 15 April, the ship sank into the ocean.
The exact location of the shipwreck was not known for over 70 years after it went down.
How Deep is the Titanic Wreck?
The Titanic wreck lies in two pieces, around 600m apart, between the Newfoundland Basin and the Sohm Plain. It is 3,800m under the surface of the ocean.
The depths that the Titanic wreck sits at are described as treacherous. The underwater pressure is roughly 390 times that of the surface, or 200 times the pressure of your average car tyre. It goes without saying that humans cannot survive such conditions unless they are encased in a submarine with very thick walls.
In addition, there are strong currents, deep water tides, waves of mud, and even underwater storms that can sweep material along the seabed.
Easily the best ocean depth animation I’ve seen… pic.twitter.com/UmhqCUwMBM
— Brett Roberts (@brettroberts) October 13, 2021
Light does not travel far in water. Beyond 1000m, it is entirely dark. People who have previously visited the wreck describe descending for over two hours in complete blackness before the lights of the submarine hit the ocean floor. Visibility is reduced to just a few metres Once down there, visibility is reduced to a few metres.
Titanic Ship Wreck
The Titanic wreck itself is still recognisable even after over a century at the bottom of the sea. After it was discovered in 1985, using a remote vehicle sending pictures to the surface, a manned mission to the wreck was carried out in 1986.
They found the ship lying upright in two pieces and covered in rust-coloured stalactite formations, which were later termed ‘rusticles’. These rusticles, which cover much of the wreck, are tiny, iron-eating bacteria that are slowly consuming the ship. Scientists believe the ship will entirely disappear by the end of this decade, thanks to the bacteria. The rate of decomposition is estimated to be between half and one ton of metal per day.
There have been a number of visits to the wreck over time, with thousands of artifacts taken from the wreck. These artifacts have been used in museum displays around the world.
In 1996, the salvage company RMS Titanic Inc. raised a 20-tonne section of the wreck to the surface. Historians and the families of people who died on the ship complained at the time that the site is effectively a grave and should be left alone.
UNESCO deemed the wreck eligible for protection under the Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2012, 100 years after the boat sank.
In 2019, a team of scientists visited the wreck for the first time in 14 years and described the condition as “shocking.” They noted that it had undergone extensive corrosion and deterioration. A famous section of the boat, the captain’s quarters, had collapsed entirely.
Eventually, the structure will completely give way, leaving rust, scraps, and a few more durable items on the sea floor.
How Many People Were on the Titanic?
The Titanic is thought to have been carrying 2,224 people on board. These included 1,317 passengers and 885 crew members. This is fewer than her full carrying capacity of 3,547.
The exact number of people killed when the Titanic sank is still unknown as original passenger and crew lists were inaccurate. The US committee investigating the sinking concluded that 1,517 people had died. The British investigation decided that the casualties were 1,503.
Less than a third of the people on the ship survived the wreck. Of those who died, many were travelling in the third-class compartments. Just 174 of the 710 people in the third class survived. Of the 885 crew, 688 did not make it.
The Titanic only carried enough lifeboats to accommodate half the people on board. The ship was considered unsinkable so lifeboats were thought only necessary to bring people to rescue vessels. The crew was also not trained on how to use the lifeboats, and many of them departed less than half-full.
It is thought that the water at the time would have been negative 2 degrees. Humans cannot survive in water this cold, and death typically occurs in minutes.
The RMS Carpathia arrived at 4.00am, 1 hour and 40 minutes after the Titanic went down. The boat managed to bring 706 people to New York when it arrived on 18 April. 40,000 people are thought to have met the survivors, offering food, clothing, and shelter.