CNN  — 

After a dayslong, massive search for a Titanic-bound submersible that captured international attention, US authorities announced the vessel had suffered a “catastrophic implosion” – and new information from a US Navy source helps shed light on when that disaster may have unfolded.

All five people aboard the submersible, known as the “Titan,” were killed, the US Coast Guard said in a Thursday news conference. The tail cone and other debris from the missing submersible were found by a remotely operated vehicle about 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic, which rests about 13,000 feet deep in the North Atlantic Ocean.

“The debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel,” US Coast Guard Rear Adm. John Mauger, the First Coast Guard District commander, told reporters.

A senior Navy official told CNN the Navy detected an acoustic signature consistent with an implosion on Sunday in the general area where the vessel was diving and lost communication with its mother ship.

The Navy immediately relayed that information to on-scene commanders leading the search effort, and it was used to narrow down the area of the search, the official said Thursday.

But the sound of the implosion was determined to be “not definitive,” the official said, and the multinational efforts to find the submersible continued as a search and rescue effort. The Wall Street Journal was first to report about the acoustic signature picked up by the Navy.

Follow live Titanic submersible updates

Minutes before the US Coast Guard news conference, OceanGate Expeditions, the company that operated the deep-sea submersible, issued a statement grieving the five men on board.

“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,” OceanGate said in a statement.

“These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans. Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew.”

The news ends a saga that began Sunday when the Titan began its descent to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. The expedition was billed as “a chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary” and cost each participant $250,000, an archived version of OceanGate’s website shows.

However, the cramped vessel lost contact with its mother ship about 1 hour and 45 minutes into its dive and did not surface as expected, prompting an extensive search and rescue operation in a remote area several hundred miles southeast of Newfoundland.

The expedition reflects the ongoing fascination with the Titanic more than a century after it hit an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 people. The journey was also part of the growing business of wealthy adventure tourism, along with the space flights of Blue Origin or the rise of guided tours to Mount Everest.

The focus on the vessel renewed criticisms of OceanGate’s approach to safety from employees and other industry leaders. The 23,000-pound deep-sea vessel was made of an experimental combination of carbon fiber and titanium and relied on decidedly low-tech parts, such as a video game controller.

Officials will now be tasked with answering more questions, including piecing together what exactly happened and how to best prevent it from happening again.

A massive search effort

From OceanGate/FILE
The OceanGate Titan submersible is seen in an undated photo.

The international search and rescue efforts kicked into high gear in the past few days.

The last communication between the vessel and its mother ship, the Polar Prince, came in at 11:47 a.m. Sunday. With no GPS underwater, the submersible was only guided by text messages from the surface ship.

A remotely operated vehicle was looking for the submersible on the sea floor, the US Coast Guard’s Northeast District tweeted Thursday morning. Aircraft also scanned the search zone and an ROV from a French vessel was also deployed, and equipment from Magellan, the team that mapped the Titanic wreckage site last year, was headed to the site to assist.

Earlier this week, there were moments that offered hope to the family and friends of the missing vessel.

Banging noises were detected underwater by sonar Tuesday and Wednesday in the massive search area, though their origin was not clear. The sounds on Tuesday first came every 30 minutes and were heard again four hours later, according to an internal US government memo update on the search.

When asked about those noises Thursday, Mauger said, “There doesn’t appear to be any connection between the noises (and) the location on the seafloor.”

The US Navy also helped analyze the audio signatures of banging and other acoustic data that were heard throughout the search efforts, the Navy official told CNN. Those were likely some form of natural life or sounds given off by other ships and vessels that were part of the search effort, the official said.

The audio of the implosion picked up by the US Navy came from a network of sensors as part of an underwater Navy acoustic listening system, the official said.

OceanGate faces questions on safety of vessel

Canadian Armed Forces
A screengrab from a Canadian Armed Forces Operations video released on Wednesday shows search efforts for the OceanGate Titan submersible.

The implosion of the Titan and deaths of those on board has put its operator’s safety procedures under the microscope.

Rush, the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, told a Mexican travel blogger in 2021 he wanted to be known as an innovator who broke the rules.

“I think it was (US Army) Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur who said, ‘You’re remembered for the rules you break,’” Rush told Alan Estrada, who documented his trip to the Titanic, including an aborted attempt in July 2021 before a successful visit in 2022.

“I’ve broken some rules to make this,” Rush added.

At least two former OceanGate employees years ago expressed safety concerns about the vessel’s hull, including the thickness of the material used and testing procedures, CNN has learned.

OceanGate Expeditions strayed from industry norms by declining a voluntary, rigorous safety review of the vessel, according to an industry leader. If the company had pursued a certification review “some of this may have been avoided,” Will Kohnen of the Marine Technology Society told CNN on Wednesday.

The company also faced a series of mechanical problems and inclement weather conditions that forced the cancellation or delays of trips in recent years, according to court records. The scuttled excursions led to a pair of lawsuits in which some high-paying customers sought to recoup the cost of trips they said they didn’t take. The complaints alleged that the company overstated its ability to reach the Titanic wreckage.

OceanGate did not respond to the claims in court and could not be reached for comment.

Some expeditions were delayed after OceanGate was forced to rebuild the Titan’s hull because it showed “cyclic fatigue” and wouldn’t be able to travel deep enough to reach the Titanic’s wreckage, according to a 2020 article by GeekWire, which interviewed the company’s CEO.

CEO of company and wealthy adventurers among the victims

02:36 - Source: CNN
These are the people onboard the missing submersible

The Titan generally carried five people: a pilot, in this case Rush; three paying passengers, in this case Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood and Suleman Dawood; and a content expert knowledgeable of the Titanic, in this instance Paul-Henri Nargeolet, according to OceanGate’s archived website.

Harding, a British businessman and the chairman of aircraft brokerage Action Aviation, had a lengthy list of extreme expeditions under his belt. In 2019, he was part of a flight crew that broke the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe via both poles, and in 2020, he became one of the first people to dive to Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean, widely believed to be the deepest point in the world’s oceans.

Last year, he paid an undisclosed sum of money for one of the seats on Blue Origin’s space flight.

“Today, we are united in grief with the other families who have also lost their loved ones on the Titan submersible,” read a statement on behalf of his family from Action Aviation. “Hamish Harding was a loving husband to his wife and a dedicated father to his two sons, whom he loved deeply.”

“What he achieved in his lifetime was truly remarkable and if we can take any small consolation from this tragedy, it’s that we lost him doing what he loved,” the statement added. “He will leave a gap in our lives that can never be filled.”

The Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, were part of a prominent Pakistani business family. Dawood Hercules Corporation is among the largest corporations in the country, with a portfolio spanning energy, petrochemicals, fertilizers, IT, food and agriculture.

In a statement posted to the Twitter account of The Dawood Foundation, Shahzada’s parents Hussain and Kulsum Dawood announced the deaths of Shahzada and Suleman.

“We are truly grateful to all those involved in the rescue operations. Their untiring efforts were a source of strength for us during this time,” the statement said. “We are also indebted to our friends, family, colleagues, and well-wishers from all over the world who have stood by us during our hour of need. The immense love and support we receive continues to help us to endure this unimaginable loss.”

Nargeolet, an acclaimed French diver, had decades of experience exploring the Titanic. He served as the director of underwater research at RMS Titanic Inc., the company that has exclusive rights to salvage artifacts from the ship.

According to his biography on the company’s website, Nargeolet completed 35 dives to the Titanic wreck and supervised the recovery of 5,000 artifacts. He spent 22 years in the French Navy, where he rose to the rank of a commander, the website says.

His family called him “a man who will be remembered as one of the greatest deep-sea explorers in modern history” in a statement signed by his wife and children.

“When you think of the Titanic and all we know about the ship today, you will think of Paul-Henri Nargeolet and his legendary work,” the statement added.

“But what we will remember him most for is his big heart, his incredible sense of humor and how much he loved his family. We will miss him today and every day for the rest of our lives.”

CNN’s Rob Frehse, Laura Ly, Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman, Kristina Sgueglia, Greg Wallace, Paul P. Murphy, Curt Devine and Isabelle Chapman contributed to this report.