Race against time: How the military is trying to find the Titan submersible

On June 18, 2023, the Titan submersible submerged on a dive to the wreck of the RMS Titanic. Here's how the military is trying to find it.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
Titan Submersible

OceanGate photo

On June 18, 2023, the Titan submersible submerged on a dive to the wreck of the RMS Titanic. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Titan‘s mothership, MV Polar Prince, lost contact with the submersible an hour and 45 minutes later. The Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Centre states that Titan was reported overdue around 435 miles south of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Since the submersible’s disappearance, a massive effort has been launched to locate Titan.

coast guard search and rescue
The U.S. Coast Guard is leading the search for Titan (U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency in the rescue effort. On the afternoon of June 20, the Coast Guard estimated that Titan had roughly 40 hours of air remaining. Even if the missing submersible is floating on the surface, its five occupants are bolted within from the outside. Operated by the private oceanographic exploration company OceanGate, Titan began commercial dives to the Titanic in 2021. Reliant on a mothership, the submersible was not designed to withstand extended periods at sea.

coast guard search for Titan Submersible
The Coast Guard is specially trained and equipped to conduct maritime search and rescue operations (U.S. Coast Guard)

On June 19, the Coast Guard announced support from the U.S. Navy and Transportation Command. “This is a complex search effort, which requires the use of subject matter expertise and specialized equipment,” said Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick during a press conference. “While the U.S. Coast Guard has assumed the role of search and rescue mission coordinator, we do not have all of the necessary expertise and equipment required in a search of this nature.”

Titan Submersible search
The Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System is a portable, ship lift system designed to provide reliable deep ocean lifting capacity of up to 60,000 pounds (U.S. Navy)

TRANSCOM’s contribution includes three C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes to transport commercial, rescue-related cargo. Meanwhile, the Navy sent a Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System and deep sea salvage experts. FADOSS can recover large and heavy objects from the seafloor and was used in 2022 to recover an F-35C Lightning II from 12,400 feet deep in the South China Sea.

cp-140 looking for Titan Submersible
The CP-140 is flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force (Department of National Defence)

In addition to the United States, Canada is supporting the rescue effort with its Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force. RCAF CP-140 Auroras, based on the U.S. Navy’s P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, dropped sonobuoys to help locate the missing submersible.

mv polar prince
Titan was launched by MV Polar Prince (twitter.com/RichMacLellan)

Aboard Titan is one OceanGate pilot and four passengers. The submersible was chartered at a cost of $250,000 per passenger, with the dive to the Titanic being part of an eight-day expedition. Polar Prince, a former Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker, was hired by OceanGate.