“Intense worry” is how a former passenger of the missing Titan submersible describes his feelings as he waits with hope that the five people onboard, including two of his friends, will be found safely.
Alfred Hagen, president of Hagen Construction and Development and a self-described adventurer from Pennsylvania, spoke with Global News about his connection to the ship and recounted his own journey he took into the ocean depths in 2021.
His friends Paul-Henry Nargolet, a French diver considered a world expert on the Titanic, and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush were on the submersible when it went missing Sunday.
“As you can well understand, this isn’t just a story to me, it’s not just people somewhere, these are personal friends,” he said in an interview.
“It’s a horrific story and I know intimately what conditions they’re suffering, the state of the submersible, how cold it is, how tight it is, how uncomfortable. And it pains me deeply to think of them gasping for air as the clock runs out on them.”
The submersible, Titan, was first reported overdue Sunday night, setting off the search in waters about 700 kilometres south of St. John’s, N.L.
The vessel had a four-day oxygen supply – about 96 hours – when it was put to sea around 6 a.m. Eastern, according to an adviser to OceanGate Expeditions, which oversaw the mission.
A CBS News journalist, David Pogue, who previously travelled on Titan in 2022 said the vehicle uses text messages back and forth with a surface ship, and safety pings emitted every 15 minutes to indicate the submersible is still working.
Both of those systems stopped about an hour and 45 minutes after the Titan submerged.
In speaking about his own journey from two years ago, Hagen said they learned how the submersible worked, what to expect and had to change both their diets and routines, adding part of the change to the “low residue” diet was because there are “no facilities” in the machine.
“So we were prepared mentally, physically for this expedition and then we went on it,” he explained. “And of course, it’s challenging and it’s not for the faint of heart. I mean, it’s a very dangerous endeavour and they made that clear.”
The Bucks County, Penn., man said most of the missions, including the one he went on, last about 13 or 14 hours by the time you “went into a freefall, went to the bottom of the ocean, spent time investigating the wreck site and then rising back up.”
He added getting out of the vessel also takes time as it has to be raised onto a ship, and “unfold” several bolts to open the door.
He praised his friend Rush during his interview, who he called the “genius inventor” of Titan, saying he created something that could go deeper than “almost any other piece of equipment” on Earth and is trying to open up the sea depths for exploration.
In talking about Nargolet, Hagen called him a “living legend” for the achievements he’s made in finding shipwrecks around the world.
“He is Mr. Titanic,” Hagen said. “He basically oversaw the salvage of everything that has come up and knows it intimately.”
Hagen explained that, based on his own experience, there were a lot of things that can happen during the entire excursion as the ship descends to where the Titanic should be.
It starts with a freefall in which the power of the vessel is turned off and the submersible drops into the sea, which he said took about three to three-and-a-half hours.
“You go into a world of utter darkness where light can never penetrate, and to a complete absence of light, which is unknown anywhere on earth except in the depths of the abyss,” he explained.
Once they got to the bottom, he said the submersible powers back up and begins to explore, adding that when it’s that deep there can be times communication is sporadic due to the depth.
Given how deep the vessel can be, however, searching that area can be difficult.
“It’s hard to even find something as large as the Titanic,” he said. “You’re really looking for a needle at the bottom of the sea.”
While he acknowledged it was only speculation based on his own personal experience, Hagen said he wondered whether the vessel experienced a “catastrophic failure” where they lost power and were unable to surface, potentially got stuck in the wreckage of the ship itself, or suffered an “implosion.”
But he cautioned if there was an implosion, there would be no sign of life. Hagen noted recent reports that underwater noises were detected in the North Atlantic that could be interpreted as people potentially still alive.
A statement from the U.S. Coast Guard released on Wednesday did not elaborate on what the rescuers believed the noises could be, though it has offered a glimmer of hope for those lost aboard.
Despite the risks faced and waivers that were signed by those onboard the vessel, taking that risk is what Hagen calls a “fundamental part of being human.”
“We want to go deeper than anyone else has ever gone. We want to be as great as we can possibly be,” he said. “That’s why we accept risk. If we did not accept risk, we would never have crossed open oceans, we would never have learned to sail ships, we would never have flown airplanes.”
Hagen said he hopes his friends will return, but said those who take the trip on the submersible know the risk and each journey of the vessel improves the following one.
“You’re accepting danger,” he said. “So basically, if their lives are lost they won’t be in vain because someone’s going to take the lessons learned and they’re going to incorporate them going forward and make some adjustments.”
As friends, family members and people around the world await word about the submersible, Hagen said if he gets a call that those onboard are safe and returning to the surface, “it would be one of the sweetest moments of my entire life. A sense of complete euphoria.”
“It’s increasingly, increasingly unlikely as the sands run out. But we cannot desist in our efforts as long as there is hope.”
—With files from Shallima Maharaj, Aaron D’Andrea and Sean Boynton, Global News