Missing Titanic submersible: Passenger presumed dead on sub has ties to Bay Area

ByABC7 News staff, Tim Johns KGO logo
Thursday, June 22, 2023
1 missing on Titanic sub has Bay Area ties, oxygen running out
Shahzada Dawood, one of the missing passengers of the Titanic sub tour, is a shareholder of SETI Institute in Mountain View.

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: A submersible carrying five people to the Titanic imploded near the site of the shipwreck and killed everyone on board, authorities said Thursday, bringing a tragic end to a saga that included an urgent around-the-clock search and a worldwide vigil for the missing vessel.

Get the latest on this developing story here.

The story about Shahzada Dawood continues below

The news of the lost Titanic tour submersible shook the world when news broke out about its disappearance earlier this week.

But for one Bay Area company, this incident hits a lot closer to home.

Bill Diamond is the CEO of SETI Institute in Mountain View, a nonprofit dedicated to the "search and understanding of life beyond Earth," according to its website.

Diamond says Shahzada Dawood, one of the missing passengers, is a shareholder with the organization and learning of the submersible's disappearance was devastating news to his team.

RELATED: Missing Titanic submersible: CEO of company leading expedition, billionaire adventurer on board

The people on board included OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who, according to the company, was serving as a member of the crew.

"He's on the submersible. He was at our board meeting in April and telling me about this trip coming up. He was very excited about it. And so I knew that he was going on this expedition," Diamond said in an interview with ABC7 News. "And of course, then to hear the shocking news that the communication had been lost an hour and a half into the dive was pretty devastating."

Diamond described the dynamic between the institute and its members as "close-knit," saying that, though Dawood was based in London, the two would visit each other frequently.

Dawood is a British-Pakistani businessman who boarded the tour with his university-aged son Suleman and three other travelers. The missing Titan tour sub was first reported on Sunday and search-and-rescue efforts have been underway by the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies ever since.

Suleman Dawood and Shahzada Dawood
Dawood Family

"His son, you know, is not associated with the Institute, per se, but of course, he's the son of somebody who is, and it is kind of extraordinary," Diamond said. "The Institute is only about 130 people, and our board is about 15 members, and everybody on the board knows one another and we're all close together."

The U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday that it was bringing in more ships and underwater vessels to search for the submersible missing in the North Atlantic after detecting underwater sounds, including banging noises that provided a glimmer of hope three days after the Titan disappeared while bringing a group of five people down to the wreck of the Titanic.

RELATED: Banging, noises heard from search area for lost Titanic tour submersible, Coast Guard says

Diamond says that, while the news is heartbreaking, he is still holding onto the possibility that his friend and colleague will be found safe and alive, touching upon the technologies being used to help locate the vessel.

"I mean, it's kind of ironic in a way that the search is very much like a SETI endeavor in SETI. We're looking for phenomena that nature doesn't produce. And that's the same thing that they're doing here," he said. "They're looking for, you know, sonar blips, or audio noises and signals or other signs of technology that would indicate 'this is not nature here.'"

However, Diamond does stress that there are still many unknowns in this case, with oxygen levels and the risk of hyperthermia after being submerged with no power in freezing ocean waters being of the many different variables to consider.

"I mean, there's just so many bad scenarios here," he said. "I think for all of us, it's just unimaginable to think what they're going through. If indeed, they're still okay, I'm still on board."

RELATED: Titanic submersible missing: What we know about shipwreck-exploring vessel, including who's on board

The deep-sea vessel, operated by OceanGate Expeditions, lost contact about an hour and 45 minutes after submerging on Sunday morning with a 96-hour oxygen supply.

Diamond describes Dawood as someone who is not a "daredevil" and would not take unnecessary risks.

He believes that his friend felt comfortable and safe with the technology presented before him enough to bring his son along for the journey. The team at SETI continues to hold out hope for the crew on board the Titan submersible.

When asked about how this would affect recreational uses of technology going forward, Diamond says that he can see this experience being a teachable moment, using society's technological advances to bring paying customers to risky depths and excursions. He says he can expect regulators and policymakers are going to take a hard look at this and see whether there's some kind of structure or safety guidelines that may be required in the future.

"It could have ramifications in terms of regulatory issues, you know, trying to regulate this kind of endeavor. We'll see. I think you can't stop the human spirit, and you're not going to stop people from taking risks, and from, you know, going places that that involve risk," he said.

Experts believe the submersible will run out of oxygen early Thursday morning. But even if it's found soon, getting it out of the water could be a difficult process.

"It's going to take at least 16 hours, you know, to get it out. And so the question again is it's a matter of time," said Kristin Romey, editor at National Geographic.

At Cal Maritime, Captain Tamara Burback says rescue crews will likely look for the vessel even after oxygen runs out.

"It'll be a recovery mission and they will continue to still look for the craft," said Capt. Tamara Burback of Cal Maritime. "We want to try and find it and then the next step is to do an investigation with whatever they discover."

The captain says no matter what the outcome, she hopes the incident will lead to future changes to the relatively new submersible tourism industry that makes it safer for all.

"Especially with the communication system onboard these small crafts," Burback said. "I would also like to see them painted a prominent color and have way more redundancy."

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