Teams from the US and Canadian coast guards were scurrying to find and save five tourists aboard a submersible tourist boat that went missing while making a dive to the Titanic debris in the North Atlantic on Monday.
The OceanGate Expeditions-operated 21-foot (6.5-meter) boat started its descent early on Sunday and lost communication with the surface less than two hours later.
A British aviator is thought to be among those on board after he announced his participation in the mission earlier on social media.
The Canadian Coast Guard said it is also participating in the effort with fixed wing planes and a ship despatched to the search area. The US Coast Guard said it has started a comprehensive search around 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
“It is a challenge to conduct a search in that remote area, but we are deploying all available assets to make sure that we can locate the craft and rescue the people on board,” US Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger told reporters in Boston, where he was overseeing the operation.
“We work very very hard” in the search effort, “and our crews take this personally,” he added.
Time is a crucial component. The vessel has a 96-hour range for a crew of five, and Mauger said on Monday afternoon that he thought there were still at least 70 hours of oxygen left.
OceanGate trip claims on their website that a diving trip to the Titanic site is “currently underway.”
The business dives to a maximum depth of 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) using a submersible called Titan.
In a statement quoted by CBS News and other media outlets, OceanGate Expeditions said: “Our entire focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible and their families.”
British billionaire and aviator Hamish Harding had on Sunday posted on his Instagram account that he was “proud to finally announce” he had joined the OceanGate Expedition “for their RMS TITANIC Mission as a mission specialist on the sub going down to the Titanic.”
“Due to the worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, this mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023,” added the 58-year-old aviator.
“A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive tomorrow.”
Admiral Mauger refused to provide any information about the passengers’ identities.
According to Harding, “the team on the sub has a couple of legendary explorers, some of which have done over 30 dives to the RMS Titanic since the 1980s.”
When contacted by AFP, Harding’s business Action Aviation declined to comment, and OceanGate could not be reached right away.