‘I have no hope’: Chances of survival aboard missing sub are slim says local marine salvage expert

The search is growing increasingly desperate for a small submersible that disappeared while taking five people to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Everett-based company OceanGate built the vessel – and its CEO Stockton Rush was among the five on board. The company confirmed to KIRO 7 Tuesday afternoon that Rush was piloting the vessel on its journey to visit the Titanic wreckage.

The Titanic wreck is 2.4 miles underwater – nearly the depth Mount Rainier would be if it was inverted into the Atlantic Ocean.

Marine salvage expert, Bob Mester, has been onboard the Titan, while it was on land, to check it out. He says he’s also been on submersible vessels that have traveled a mile deeper than even the Titanic shipwreck.

Mester is a Puyallup resident and manages Northwest Maritime Consultants, a marine salvage and surveying company.

He says the outcome for Titan only has a few possibilities.

“The pilot could’ve had a physical health issue, heart attack, or stroke,” Mester said.

Or he says it could’ve been an electrical or communication problem, since the submersible lost contact 1 hour and 45 minutes into its voyage.

Mester says in either case, the others on board should be able to hit a weight release and resurface the sub. CBS science correspondent David Pogue went onboard Titan last year and reports the sub has seven different ways to rise to the surface, including multiple redundant ballast and air bladder systems.

But so far, it appears none of those were used. The U.S. Coast Guard, Canadian first responders, and private companies have searched more than 10,000 square miles of water and have not located Titan on the surface.

“The only other option is catastrophic failure of the submarine. Which means the hull somehow breached,” Mester said. “If that were to happen, it would be instantaneous – no chance for any survival by anybody.”

Mester says even with sending equipment to the bottom of the ocean, finding the small sub will still be difficult.

“To go into this debris field for the Titanic, with its massive amount of debris, and find a target where the mass is so much smaller than the rest of the items on the bottom is going to be a real puzzle,” he said.

Last year CEO Stockton Rush emphasized Titan’s safety to CBS Sunday Morning.

“Everything else can fail. Your thrusters can go. Your lights can go. You’re still going to be safe,” Rush said.

“It’s kind of ironic. They’re going down to a vessel that was touted to be unsinkable on a maiden voyage. You never forget that this is a very hostile environment, it’s dangerous, it’s a new frontier,” Mester said.

The air on board the sub is expected to last until Thursday morning. But Mester says time may have already run out.

“How hopeful are you that the people on board will be found alive?” KIRO 7′s Deedee Sun asked. “I have no hope at this point and time,” Mester said after a long pause. “It’s a tragic loss.”

The structure of Titan has also come under scrutiny, with a clip from last year’s CBS Sunday Morning feature about the vessel now going viral. It’s received almost 20 million views as of Tuesday evening. At the time, Pogue questioned the safety of the vessel, and read aloud the disclaimer he had to sign for the voyage.

“An experimental submersible vessel that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma, or death,” Pogue read aloud.

The piece also showed a game controller that was being used to navigate the vessel.

“I couldn’t help noticing how many pieces of this sub seemed improvised,” Pogue said in his report.

“We run this whole thing with this game controller,” Rush said.

But Rush stressed that critical safety elements were “buttoned down” – like the pressure vessel, which he said OceanGate worked on with Boeing, NASA, and the University of Washington.

The USCG says it will have its next briefing Wednesday morning, unless there are major developments beforehand.