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Who is Hamish Harding? British billionaire explorer missing on Titanic sub

British billionaire and adventurer Hamish Harding is understood to be among the people on the missing submersible that set off to view the wreck of the Titanic.

Rescuers in a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean raced against time early Tuesday to find the sub, which is believed to be carrying five people.

One of Pakistan’s richest men and his teenage son were also aboard the vessel, which lost all communication at 12,500ft underwater, along with one pilot and two “mission specialists”.

The Titan sub belongs to OceanGate Expeditions, a company that takes tourists to view the wreckage of the Titanic. These trips span multiple days and cost $250,000 per person.

Who is Hamish Harding?

Mr Harding 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 is chairman of private plane firm Action Aviation. He was inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation in 2022 and was honoured for being an “enthusiastic pilot” and “experienced skydiver”.

He lives in Dubai with his wife, Linda, and two sons, Rory and Giles, according to the awards body. He has a stepdaughter named Lauren and a stepson named Brian Szasz. He has a natural sciences and chemical engineering degree from the University of Cambridge.

Mr Harding’s three Guinness World Records are for fastest circumnavigation of the Earth via both poles by plane, greatest distance covered at full ocean depth, and the greatest duration spent at full ocean depth.

In 2019, Mr Harding led a team of pilots and astronauts to achieve the first record in 46 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds. This was to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, according to the Living Legends of Aviation.

But Mr Harding has made more than one trip to the South Pole.

The awards body said that in 2016 he accompanied Mr Aldrin – who became the oldest person to reach the South Pole aged 86 – and took his son Giles in 2020, who became the youngest person to reach the South Pole aged 12.

In 2021, Mr Harding 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 seafloor.

In a post on Facebook to mark the five-month anniversary of the dive, Mr Harding said: “Can’t believe it’s been that long already but absolutely can’t wait for our next mission/journey/adventure!”

In June 2022, Mr Harding flew to space as part of the fifth human space flight run by Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin.

In September, accepting his Living Legends of Aviation award, he thanked his wife and two sons as well as his “very loving, very beautiful, very loyal” golden retrievers.

On social media at the weekend, Mr Harding said he was “proud to finally announce” that he would be aboard the mission to the wreck of the Titanic – but added that due to the “worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, this mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023”.

He continued: “A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive tomorrow.

“We started steaming from St Johns, Newfoundland, Canada yesterday and are planning to start dive operations around 4am tomorrow morning. Until then we have a lot of preparations and briefings to do.”

Mark Butler, managing director of Action Aviation, said: “There is still plenty of time to facilitate a rescue mission, there is equipment on board for survival in this event. We’re all hoping and praying he comes back safe and sound.”

Who else is onboard?

Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son Suleman, 19, are also believed to have been onboard the sub.

The family have strong links to the UK and are reported to live in a mansion in Surrey.

“We are very grateful for the concern being shown by our colleagues and friends and would like to request everyone to pray for their safety,” the family said in a statement.

Stockton Rush, the founder of OceanGate, is also feared to be on board, according to Sky News.

Mr Rush established OceanGate in 2009, developing a small fleet of submersibles capable of reaching depths previously visited exclusively by government vessels.

“In the vacuum of space, by definition there is nothing. That means a great view, but the final frontier for new life forms and discovery is undersea – for the next 200 to 300 years at least,” he said in a 2017 interview.

What do we know about the missing sub?

The US Coast Guard said the subversive lost contact with its pilot ship, the Polar Prince, around one hour and 45 minutes into the dive.

The Polar Prince will continue to do surface searches throughout the night and Canadian Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft will resume their surface and subsurface search in the morning, the US Coast Guard said. Two US Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft also have conducted overflights.

Rear Admiral John W Mauger of the US Coast Guard said on Monday evening they are doing “everything” they can to find the people on board.

As of Monday afternoon, the crew was understood to have 96 hours of oxygen left – meaning supplies would be due to run out on Friday.

The expedition was OceanGate’s third annual voyage to chronicle the deterioration of Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing all but about 700 of the roughly 2,200 passengers and crew. Since the wreckage’s discovery in 1985, it has been slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria. Some have predicted the ship could vanish in a matter of decades as holes yawn in the hull and sections disintegrate.

The initial group of tourists in 2021 paid $100,000 to $150,000 apiece to go on the trip. OceanGate’s website had described the “mission support fee” for the 2023 expedition as $250,000 a person.

Undated handout photo issued by American Photo Archive of the OceanGate Expeditions submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. Rescue teams are continuing the search for the submersible tourist vessel which went missing during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck with British billionaire Hamish Harding among the five people aboard. Issue date: Tuesday June 20, 2023. PA Photo. The five-person OceanGate Expeditions vessel reported overdue on Sunday evening about 435 miles south of St John's, Newfoundland. See PA story SEA Titanic. Photo credit should read: American Photo Archive/Alamy/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
The OceanGate Expeditions submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic (Photo: PA)

During its expedition in 2022, OceanGate reported that the submersible had a battery issue on its first dive, and had to be manually attached to its lifting platform, according to a November court filing. More missions, however, followed. The company reported that 28 people visited the wreck site last year.

Experts said on Monday that rescuers face steep challenges.

Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, said submersibles typically have a drop weight, which is “a mass they can release in the case of an emergency to bring them up to the surface using buoyancy”.

“If there was a power failure and/or communication failure, this might have happened, and the submersible would then be bobbing about on the surface waiting to be found,” he said.

Another scenario is a leak in the pressure hull, in which case the prognosis is not good, he said.

“If it has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, options are very limited,” he said. “While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers.”

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