Billionaires and the Titanic: the allure of extreme expeditions

The disappearance of the submersible en route to the wreck of the Titanic has highlighted the businesses that offer extreme expeditions – and their clienteles.

Among the five people on the missing Titan submersible are two billionaires – Hamish Harding, a 58-year-old businessman who made his fortune selling private jets and holds three Guinness world records for previous extremetrips, and the British-based Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, who is onboard with his 19-year-old son Suleman.

In an Instagram post on Saturday, Harding said that he would “finally” begin the 12,500ft dive at 4am on Sunday morning and it was “likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023”.

Hamish Harding, centre, has flown to space on a Blue Origin flight. Photograph: Felix Kunze/AP

It wasn’t Harding’s first trip to the bottom of the seas. He has already navigated to the deepest point in the world’s oceans, the Mariana Trench, a depth of about 10,925 metres (36,000 feet) in the Pacific.

Harding has also been up very high. Last year, he was one of six people onboard the fifth human flight of Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin New Shepard rocket that reached an apogee (height) of 351,000 feet (66 miles or 107 km) above earth.

These adventures do not come cheap.

Tickets for the Titanic submersible cost $250,000 (£195,000). The trip is organised by Oceangate, an exploration tourism company founded and run by Stockton Rush, an American multimillionaire. He is also missing, as is Paul Henri Nargeolet, the French deep-sea diver, who has visited the wreck site more than 30 times and is known as “Mr Titanic”.

A video advert for the trip says: “This is not a thrill ride for tourists, it is much more, it is an eight-day one-of-a kind experience.”

Aaron Newman, a software security businessman who has been on a previous Titanic dive with Oceangate, said: “It’s not a ride at Disney. There’s a lot of real risk involved, and there’s a lot of challenges.

“This is definitely one of the most interesting, unique things I have ever done. I’ve been to Everest, but this is more unique, this was a dream come true. This will, no doubt, be the best experience of my entire life.”

A trip to space costs even more. The price of two tickets on a Blue Origin flight was a reported $2.5m. The company has declined to comment on pricing.

Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic has sold more than 800 tickets at $450,000-a-piece to people who want to fly 260,000ft (80km) above Earth and experience a few minutes of zero gravity.

Several companies are dedicated to tailor-making expensive trips to some of the world’s last wildernesses.

Trips to see the wildlife in Antarctica with White Desert Antarctica can cost $100,000. Photograph: Alessandro Dahan/Getty Images

Patrick Woodhead, a world record-breaking polar explorer, set up White Desert Antarctica to take rich clients on luxury trips to the south pole costing up to $98,500 per person.

Woodhead on Tuesday described Harding as an “incredible aviation explorer in his own right” and said he had “travelled with us to Antarctica a number of times, including with astronaut Buzz Aldrin”.

Mountaineer Garrett Madison leads trips up Mount Everest at a cost of $93,500. He boasts that even up the 8,000m mountain, his guest can expect gas-powered showers and a world class chef cooking up t-bone steak, lamb chops or salmon fillets. On a episode of US TV show Secret Lives of the Super Rich he said: “It’s definitely not a cheap hobby. But it’s definitely worth every penny.”

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