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A search is currently underway for a deep-sea submersible that has gone missing while diving to the most famous shipwreck on the planet, the Titanic. Five people are on board the craft called Titan, which was reported overdue on June 20, 2023. The coast guards and militaries of the US and Canada are assisting with the search, though the odds of finding the craft in time become ever more bleak as time goes by. It has air reserves for 96 hours.

The Titan is a submersible deep-sea craft, so it’s not a submarine that can dive and get back to the surface by itself at will – it has to be launched and pulled back up by another vessel, in this case the Canadian research ship Polar Prince. The Polar Prince, however, lost contact with the craft almost two hours after it launched on its dive down to the Titanic’s wreckage – the third annual trip of this sort the Titan has made to document the degradation of the famous ship due to metal-eating bacteria.

Aside from being able to withstand the pressure of depth necessary to get down to the wreck, the Titan doesn’t seem to be all that sophisticated, according to a CBS report from last year. It details how the craft was depending on its launch vessel to guide it through text messages and how communication broke down. The reporter, who followed an expedition of the Titan from the launch ship, wrote that “it seems like this submersible has elements of MacGyver jerry-riggedness.”

An onboard clip from that time has shown that the Titan is controlled by a cheap gamepad you could have at home – the Logitech F710 is a solid controller to get if you’re on a tight budget, but perhaps not exactly the type of equipment you want to stake your life on. It seems to have been upgraded with some attachments on the sticks for better control. Reviewers on sites like Amazon frequently mention issues with the wireless device's connection.

It's not completely unusual that gamepads are used to steer expensive pieces of technology that are not video games, of course – the US military’s use of Xbox gamepads is a famous example.

This submersible is operated by OceanGate Expeditions, a private venture, which sends down teams of scientists and “mission specialists” – rich people who pay for the privilege and get to operate some tasks on the craft. UK billionaire Hamish Harding, who holds three Guinness World Records and was both in space and in the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench, is one of the people currently on board the Titan.

According to an expert quoted by AP, submersibles usually have a drop weight they can release to get back to the surface in an emergency – in that case, the Titan could drift on the surface at the moment, but would be relatively safe. In the worst case scenario, the craft’s pressure hull suffered from a leak and it lies on the seabed without communication or the ability to gain height.