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All 5 passengers on OceanGate's missing Titan submersible are dead

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The search is over in the Atlantic Ocean. The submersible that went missing four days ago on its way down to the Titanic wreckage has been found. The Coast Guard has confirmed that all five people aboard have died in what appears to have been a catastrophic implosion. NPR's Tovia Smith is following the story and joins us now.

Tovia, this is a tragic turning point. What can you tell us?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, it's a confirmation of everyone's worst fears. Even given what we thought was a dwindling oxygen supply, many were clinging to hope that there would be survivors, but families were notified earlier today that is not the case. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger says the sub imploded on its way down to the ocean floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MAUGER: In consultation with experts from within the unified command, the debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber.

SMITH: So now the wreckage of this sub is laying on the ocean floor just about 1,600 feet away from the wreckage of the Titanic that the passengers were hoping to view. And I'll add the debris from the sub was first spotted by a remote-operated vehicle that just arrived this morning to help the search.

SUMMERS: Just this morning. I mean, Tovia, those are key pieces of equipment, and they're arriving there four days into the search and rescue operation. Why so late?

SMITH: That's a question we're probably going to be trying to answer for a while. So first off, this is far away, and it takes a lot of time to mobilize such big equipment and get it all there. Also, there's been a lot of finger-pointing. And I'll refrain from repeating that until we have the facts. But one fact we do know is that the ship lost communication capability on Sunday morning, and the Coast Guard says it got the call for help on Sunday evening. So there are questions about that apparent delay by OceanGate, the company that owns the sub. I spoke to David Marquet, who's a former Coast Guard commander. He told me that they may have delayed because, as we know, they lost communication with the sub in the past.

DAVID MARQUET: There's motivation for not getting everybody excited and not having the Coast Guard expend resources unnecessarily. But not only is that hours; but it's hours of daylight. So I think there was an unconscionable delay in reporting the problem.

SMITH: OceanGate had no comment on that. In a statement today, the company said it was grieving those lost, and it noted the spirit of adventure shared by all those on board.

SUMMERS: I mean, I have to imagine that families now mourning loved ones also have questions about that delay.

SMITH: Certainly questions and some anger. One relative of a British businessman on board was quoted as saying it took far too long for OceanGate to report the trouble. I'll note that this sub was what even the company calls an experimental vessel, and all passengers have to sign a long, detailed waiver warning of possible injury or death. And it says very clearly that the sub - I'm quoting here - "has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body." So already, experts are talking about tightening regulation of this relatively new industry of undersea tourism. Here's what Marquet, the former Coast Guard commander, said about OceanGate.

MARQUET: They wanted their cake and eat it, too. They wanted to not comply with the industry standards, not get certified, but, oh, when they're in trouble, all the resources of at least four different governments come rushing to your aid. And to me, it's like, you're going to go up on a mountain without safety ropes, we're not going to risk a helicopter to pull you off the mountain. I mean, that's the kind of discussion that we need to have.

SMITH: I want to mention a comment from one family member quickly here. This was a young woman who lost her father, the renowned Titanic researcher PH Nargeolet. And she said her dad was where he loved to be, and she preferred the idea of him dying in his happy place. And along those lines, even the Coast Guard rear admiral himself mentioned that he hopes it was a relief to the family to know that the passengers did not suffer days of anguish since it appears to have been an instantaneous death.

SUMMERS: NPR's Tovia Smith. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith
Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.