A year after Titan's fatal dive, explorers vow to keep searching for marine mysteries

A year after Titan's fatal dive, explorers vow to keep searching for marine mysteries

Even after the fatal explosion of an experimental submersible while heading to Titanic's deep-sea grave in June last year, questions still remain about the disaster, yet the desire for further ocean exploration has not diminished.

June 18 marked one year since the Titan disappeared while visiting a historic wreck site in the North Atlantic Ocean. After a five-day search that captured worldwide attention, authorities said the ship had been destroyed and all five people aboard were killed.

Concerns have been raised as to whether the Titan was doomed to destruction due to its unconventional design and its manufacturer's refusal to submit to independent inspections considered standard in the industry.

The U.S. Coast Guard immediately launched a high-level investigation into the incident, but officials said the probe is taking longer than the initial 12-month timeframe, and a planned public hearing to discuss their findings will not take place for at least another two months.

Meanwhile, deep-sea exploration continues. The Georgia-based company that holds the rights to salvage the Titanic plans to visit the sunken ocean liner using remotely operated vehicles in July, and an Ohio real estate billionaire has said he plans to sail to the wreck in a two-person submersible in 2026.

Several ocean explorers told The Associated Press they are confident undersea exploration can continue safely in a post-Titan world.

“The scientific community has always had a desire to get out to sea,” said Greg Stone, a veteran ocean explorer and friend of Titan operator Stockton Rush, who died in the explosion. “I haven't noticed any difference in the desire to go out to sea and explore.” OceanGate, a company co-founded by Rush that owned the submarine, suspended operations in early July. A company spokesman declined to comment.

David Concannon, a former consultant for OceanGate, said he will celebrate the anniversary privately with a group of people who have been involved with the company or submarine expeditions over the years, including scientists, volunteers and mission specialists. He said many of them, including those on the Titan support ship Polar Prince, have not been interviewed by the Coast Guard.

“The fact that they are isolated and in a confined space is shocking,” he said in an email last week. “Stockton Rush has been slandered and so has everyone associated with OceanGate. I wasn’t even there and I’ve received death threats. We support each other and just wait to be interviewed. The world has moved on … but the families and those most affected still live with this tragedy every day.” Titan has been making annual trips since 2021 describing the decay of the Titanic and the underwater ecosystem surrounding the sunken ocean liner.

The spacecraft made its last dive on Sunday morning, June 18, 2023, and lost contact with its support ship about two hours later. When the delay was reported that afternoon, rescue teams dispatched ships, aircraft and other equipment to the area, about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John's, Newfoundland.

The U.S. Navy had informed the Coast Guard that day about an anomaly in its acoustic data that was “consistent with an explosion or blast” around the time communications between the Polar Prince and Titan were lost, a senior Navy official later told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

Whatever hope remained that the crew was still alive ended on June 22, when the Coast Guard announced that debris had been found on the sea floor near the Titanic. Authorities have since recovered the submarine's intact endcap, debris and possible human remains from the site.

In addition to Rush, the explosion also killed two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargolet.

Harding and Nargolet were members of the Explorers Club, a professional organization dedicated to research, exploration and resource conservation.

“Then, as now, it affected us very deeply on a personal level,” Richard Garriott, the group's president, said in an interview last week. “We knew not only everyone involved, but all the previous divers, the support teams, the people who worked on all these ships — they were all either members of this club or within our network.” Garriott believes that even if the Titan hadn't exploded, the right rescue equipment couldn't get to the site quickly enough. He said the tragedy stunned everyone, from the Coast Guard to the ships on site, underscoring the importance of developing detailed search and rescue plans before any operation. His organization has since created a task force to help others.

“That's what we're really trying to get right, to make sure we know who to call and what materials to gather,” he said.

Garriott believes the world is entering a new golden age of exploration, thanks to technological advances that have opened up frontiers and provided new tools to more thoroughly study previously unseen places. The Titanic tragedy hasn't tarnished that, he said.

Veteran deep-sea explorer Katie Croff Bell agrees. The Titan explosion has again demonstrated the importance of adhering to industry standards and conducting rigorous testing, but the industry as a whole, “its safety track record has been very good for many decades,” said Bell, who is president of the Ocean Discovery League, a nonprofit focused on making deep-sea exploration less expensive and more accessible.

Garriott said a ceremony commemorating Titan's victims will be held at the annual Global Exploration Summit in Portugal this week.

“Progress is continuing,” he said. “I actually feel very comfortable and confident that we will now be able to move forward.”

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