The 37-year-old said the wait for news of her mentor Hamish Harding has been “torturous” and her hope is fast diminishing as most scenarios are “bleak for survival at this point”.
A desperate rescue operation is underway deep in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in search of the submersible vessel carrying Mr Harding and four others to observe the wreckage of the Titanic.
Ms Mikkelsen, who is an explorer herself as well as a cinematographer and filmmaker, said she had been in contact with those involved in the search and rescue operation, including the crew of its support vessel, and was told they were working under the assumption the “maximum life support is Thursday 22 June at 11.30am (BST)”.
She explained she had been informed the submarine began its descent at 11.30am (BST) on Sunday, with enough oxygen for 96 hours for five people.
Ms Mikkelsen, of Norway, said: “It’s just the torture of waiting for a call and hoping every second of every minute that a call will come through with some good news.”
She said she has been in touch with Mr Harding’s family - his wife Linda, who is an American national, and their two sons Rory, 18, and Giles, 15 - who are currently all together at his home but have requested privacy.
“I don’t think words can cover what they’re going through,” said Ms Mikkelsen. “The worst is not knowing.”
She said she “didn’t believe it” when she heard the news from Mr Harding’s family that the vessel he was on had gone missing.
The craft’s support vessel, the Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, lost contact with it about an hour and 45 minutes after it submerged, authorities said - at which point the submarine should have initiated an immediate emergency ascent, explained Ms Mikkelsen.
She said she was not initially overly concerned, as a breakdown in communications at such depths - about 12,500 feet in this case - is not uncommon. However, the more time passed, the more worried she became.
Now she believes there is only one possible positive scenario, which is that the vessel has become stuck on something attached to the Titanic, such as a fishing net. Then the rescue mission could, in theory, find and free the submarine, allowing it to rise to the surface.
“This is the scenario where I’m hopeful,” she said. “Any other scenario is bleak for survival at this point.”
And even in this more hopeful scenario, she said there are a number of other variables at play, with “a lot of factors not in their favour right now”. If the vessel has lost power, for example, the five onboard could be currently dealing with hypothermia.
“I’m losing hope every minute that goes by,” she said. “I’m trying to hope and believe they are alive and can be rescued, but it’s difficult.”
She spoke of Mr Harding as “capable, calm and collected”, and imagined he would be “an important asset to the team” down there, as they made their way through a crisis checklist, which should always be on board a vessel.
The British billionaire is an adventurer who has been to space, taken Buzz Aldrin to the South Pole and holds three Guinness World Records.
The 58-year-old chairman of private plane firm Action Aviation was inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation in 2022 where he was honoured for being an “enthusiastic pilot” and “experienced skydiver”.
He holds three Guinness World Records – greatest distance covered at full ocean depth, the greatest duration spent at full ocean depth, and fastest circumnavigation of the Earth via both poles by plane as part of the One More Orbit crew.
Ms Mikkelsen was a member of that eight-person crew in 2019, crediting Mr Harding’s belief in her as what gained her a spot on the flight mission.
“Hamish is the one that started me on my expedition career and believed in me,” she said, having met Mr Harding in 2017 and since helped him on his other expeditions. “He has been a very good teacher.”
Ms Mikkelsen explained Mr Harding had done expeditions that, on paper, were far riskier than than this one to the Titanic.
In 2021, he dived in a two-man submarine mission lasting 36 hours to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench with American explorer Victor Vescovo, breaking records by traversing the deepest part of the ocean for four hours and 15 minutes and travelling 4.6 kilometres along the sea floor.
Ms Mikkelsen said: “That was almost three times the depth, so diving to the Titanic doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal in comparison. That’s why it’s a sobering fact that an expedition is always risky. No expedition is without risk - you just never think it’s going to be you.”
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