The world has been mesmerized by the idea of exploring the wreckage of the RMS Titanic ever since oceanographer Robert Ballard discovered the doomed ship 400 miles off St. John, N.L. in 1985.
Such a mission was famously represented in the fictitious 1997 exploration of late Bill Paxton's Brock Lovett character in James Cameron's "Titanic" film, as Lovett offers shipwreck survivor Rose DeWitt Bukater a trip to the wreck – albeit from a boat floating above the wreck as an unmanned submersible dives to the ship to record video and retrieve mementos from it.
The April 14, 1912 sinking returned to the headlines last week following the fatal accident involving the OceanGate Titan submersible, which had been ferrying wealthy adventure-seekers to the hull.
The youngest explorer ever to visit the shipwreck, Sebastian Harris, spoke out to Fox News about his own harrowing experience on an earlier voyage, when he accompanied his father and a Russian explorer to the depths of the Atlantic in 2005.
The Oceangate Titan submersible (Photo by Ocean Gate / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Sebastian was 13 when he, his father – expedition leader G. Michael Harris, and Mir II submersible designer Anatoly Sagalevich traveled to the shipwreck.
"While we got down to [the] depth where it flowed over the bow, I spent some time placing a plaque. And then shortly after that, you know, as far as I knew, I fell asleep essentially," Sebastian told ‘The Story,’ Monday, adding his father tried to shake him awake.
"Turns out we were at 17% oxygen [in the submersible]. And so what happens? You go unconscious. They realized what the issue was, cranked the oxygen back up and ultimately everything was fine," he said.
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The elder Harris recalled his shock at initially believing his son fell asleep just as they crested the deck of the Titanic, telling host Martha MacCallum that he and Sagalevich were piloting the Mir when he noticed his son appeared asleep, but soon realized he wasn't moving.
ANKARA, TURKIYE - JUNE 19: An infographic titled "Titanic tourist submarine goes missing" created in Ankara, Turkiye on June 19, 2023. (Yasin Demirci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
"So I looked up and I saw that we were at 17%. And I reached back and I opened the O2 bottle and Anatoly turned and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ -- And I said 'He's passed out' -- And Anatoly then reached back and he just cranked that bottle open and it was literally inside of 10 seconds, as if somebody flipped a switch and Sebastian was back to, ‘Whoa, this is so cool’."
Sebastian's father said the episode shows the extremely dangerous environment explorers must consider when trying to explore the Titanic's shipwreck.
He told MacCallum the water pressure at that depth is 6,000 psi – the average car tire is inflated to about 40 psi – which he calculated to mean a submersible's breached hull will crush in on itself within 2 nanoseconds.
"The good news is it takes your spinal column 4mnanoseconds to register to your brain that there's a problem," he said, suggesting the crew on the doomed OceanGate submersible "literally blinked and had no idea what happened to them."
"But it just goes to show you, this is not an environment where you test vehicles. There are testing facilities out there, certification companies out there."
James Cameron (Getty Images)
Director James Cameron - who is a submersible designer himself - agreed, telling ABC News last week he found the tragic story of the sub eerily similar to what happened to the doomed ship Titanic in 1912.
Cameron noted in the interview that "many people in the community were very concerned about this sub." He said "a number of the top players" in the community "even wrote letters to the company saying that what they were doing was too experimental to carry passengers."
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"I’m struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field on a moonless night and many people died as a result," Cameron told the outlet.
"And for a very similar tragedy, where warnings went unheeded, to take place at the same exact site, with all the diving that’s going on all around the world, I think is just astonishing. It’s really quite surreal," he added.
The elder Harris said that, as someone who has taken the voyage, it was difficult to not sound like a "naysayer" when he doubted the survival of the OceanGate crew early on in the timeline.
"You should not be taking passengers in a paying, you know, paying money to be in an experimental vehicle that is not certified and tested," he said.
"The Mir I and II [have taken] over 500 dives: Great, great vehicles."