Inside Titan: Titanic-spotting submarine steered by video game controller

OceanGate Expeditions offered tours of the wreck of the legendary liner for $250,000 per person

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 30 June 2023 10:22 BST
'Missing' OceanGate CEO reveals Titanic submersible built 'with camping parts'

The search for what remains of the Titan submersible and its passengers concluded this week, as human remains were found on the sea floor and debris from the vessel returned to dry land in Canada.

Large pieces of wreckage from the Titan was seen being transported to St John’s harbour in Newfoundland on Wednesday by the Horizon Arctic ship, where they were unloaded by a crane.

The Coast Guard announced just hours later that “presumed human remains” had been found on the sea floor. They will now be formally analysed.

While the search has ended, investigations will continue for some time into what caused the “catastrophic implosion” of the sub, killing all five passengers on board.

The resting place of the Titanic lies about 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at a depth of around 12,500ft below the surface, with trips to visit it typically involving a two-hour descent.

Particular details about the Titan, a cramped metal cylinder accommodating four passengers and a pilot, emerged soon after it first went missing.

Measuring 22ft long by 9.2ft across and 8.3ft high, the sub consists of an aerospace-grade carbon fibre hull with titanium hemispheres at each end, as well as a fibreglass hull insert to shield the passengers and electronics from condensation.

The Titan making its descent

A real-time monitoring system provides a running analysis of the impact changing pressure is having on the hull as the craft descends deeper and deeper into the ocean in the interests of safety.

The vessel weighs 10,432kg in total and can travel at a maximum speed of three knots, made possible by Four Innerspace 1002 electric thrusters.

The tourists and scientists who typically ride in it are able to look out via a large viewport window, their perspective enhanced by Sub C Imaging 4k Rayfin exterior cameras that capture the surrounding marine environment in a live feed that is displayed on a large digital display.

The Titan vessel has gone missing with five people on board

There is little by way of comfort inside but there is a toilet, although privacy is limited because it is situated right next to the viewing window.

Most astonishingly, the craft is controlled by a generic video games controller – specifically a Logitech F710 Wireless PC Gamepad from 2011, according to gaming expert Matthew Ruddle – and, rather than using a GPS for navigation, it communicates with a tracking team aboard a surface ship, in this case the Polar Prince, via text messages.

A clip of a CBS Sunday Morning featurette about the sub from November 2022 that has gone viral in light of this week’s disaster shows OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who was aboard the vessel that imploded after vanishing on Sunday, cheerily pointing out handles affixed to the ceiling of the craft that he says he bought from Camper World but denying that the vessel has been “MacGyvered” or “jerry-rigged”.

“There’s no switches and things to bump into, we have one button to turn it on,” Mr Rush explained to reporter David Pogue.

An interior view of the submersible used to tour the wreck of HMS Titanic

“Everything else is done with touch screens and computers, and so you really become part of the vehicle and everybody gets to know everyone pretty well.”

The Titan was reportedly built with the help of a team of engineering consultants from Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who offered guidance during the development stage.

Speaking to GB News, David Scott-Beddard, chair of the British Titanic Society, outlined how unique the proposition offered by the company is, explaining: “The OceanGate Titan, this particular submersible, is the only one currently capable in commercial use that can take passengers down to the wreck... It’s one of only five submersibles that can reach this depth.”

Titan prepares to launch from its submersion platform on a test run

Similarly, G Michael Harris, a specialist Titanic expedition leader who said he has previously worked with the pilot of the stricken Titan, told Jesse Waters on Fox News: “More people have been to outer space than to this depth of the ocean and when you’re diving in these situations you have to cross your T’s, dot your I’s, you have to have everything absolutely perfect and by the book... Throw in a bunch of tourists and a new sub that was created over the last several years… it’s not looking good.”

As to the experience of being a passenger on the Titan, New Yorker Mike Reiss, who said he had made three dives in it, told BBC Breakfast that the sub is “a beautifully designed craft, I can’t disparage it, but it’s meant to go down further than any other vessels can go... If it’s down at the bottom, I don’t know how anyone’s going to be able to access it, much less bring it back up.

He continued: “The phrase we keep hearing is ‘they’ve lost communication’ and I’ve gotta say I did three separate dives, I did one dive to the Titanic and two more off the coast of New York and every time they lost communication.

The Titan on dry land

“And, again, this is not to say this is a shoddy ship or anything. It’s just, this is all new technology and they’re learning it as they go along.

“You have to remember the early days of the space programme or the early days of aviation where you just make a lot of mistakes on the way to figuring out what you’re doing.”

OceanGate Expeditions founder and CEO Stockton Rush, British billionaire Hamish Harding, renowned French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Suleman were on board the Titan. All five passengers died in the implosion.

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