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June 21, 2024
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What Real Estate Investor Larry Connor And Triton Submarines Are Spending On Planned Mission To The Titanic


In the past three years, Larry Connor has traveled to space, ventured to the deepest point in the Earth’s oceans and broken the world record for the highest skydive. In May, the founder of Dayton, Ohio-based real estate investment firm the Connor Group made a splash by announcing his latest mission: an expedition to the shipwreck of the Titanic, which sank in 1912 and now lies at 12,500 feet below sea level.

Speaking to Forbes from his office in Dayton days after the announcement, Connor, worth an estimated $2 billion, revealed that the expedition will cost between $13 million and $15 million, most of which will be spent to develop a new, one-of-a-kind submersible in a joint venture with Triton Submarines. The Florida-based firm, which counts billionaire Ray Dalio and movie director James Cameron as investors, will spend the next two and a half years on research and development with a planned launch date for the summer of 2026.

Connor pushed back on the narrative that he is just another wealthy tourist seeking to see the Titanic a mere 11 months after the deadly OceanGate disaster, in which five passengers died when their submersible imploded on the way to the wreck. “The purpose here is to demonstrate to people that while the ocean is very powerful, if approached correctly you can do research and exploration successfully,” he says. “We’re doing multiple research dives. In that North Atlantic area there’s hydrothermal vents and seamounts, both of which hold real interest [because] there’s been very, very limited scientific research.”

Connor will copilot the submersible alongside Patrick Lahey, Triton’s cofounder and CEO, making it the second time the duo has dived together. In 2021, Connor and Lahey conducted three dives in the Mariana Trench, voyaging to the Sirena Deep (35,150 feet below sea level), the Challenger Deep (35,876 feet below sea level, the deepest point on Earth) and a seamount (an underwater mountain), becoming the first humans to see and film the rare Mariana snailfish in its natural habitat and recovering samples of bacterial mats and deep-sea anemones.

“The Titanic angle is obviously the thing that captivates people’s interest and attention, but this project is about so much more than that,” adds Lahey, pointing to the scientific research that he plans to carry out at the Titanic site. “There are over 100,000 seamounts all over the world, and the vast majority of them are completely unexplored. These seamounts are like islands in the deep sea that are isolated from everything else, and the animal life that’s developed on them is unique.”

Besides the potential for scientific discoveries, the other main objective of the expedition is building the submersible itself. Dubbed the Explorer, the two-seater sub will have a transparent, 18-inch-thick acrylic hull offering a 320-degree view of the ocean floor and will be powered by a battery similar to those used in electric cars. “A transparent sub that can go to 4,000 meters [13,100 feet], that’s never been done before,” says Lahey. “From a research, viewing and filming perspective, it’ll be unprecedented,” adds Connor.

The impetus for the expedition came one day after the OceanGate disaster in June 2023, when Connor called Lahey to ask for his thoughts on what went wrong. Connor had himself been approached by OceanGate to gauge his interest in going to the Titanic nearly two years earlier, after he had returned from his dive to the Mariana Trench.

“They were inquiring if I was interested in doing a Titanic dive,” says Connor. “I did just a little bit of research and quickly arrived at the conclusion that they couldn’t do it safely, even with the limited knowledge that I have.”

After hearing about the implosion, Connor wanted to know if a similar expedition could be done safely, and the two started working together on the joint venture last September. Both Connor and Lahey emphasize that the Explorer—like all Triton subs, but unlike the OceanGate vessel—will be rigorously tested by DNV, a Dutch company that certifies maritime vessels to ensure that they can operate safely. “Statistically speaking, [these submersibles] are much safer than the car you get into without thinking about it,” says Lahey, touting his firm’s products.

ForbesMeet The Skydiving Billionaire With Sky-High Returns

Connor made his fortune with the Connor Group, a Dayton, Ohio-based real estate investment firm that owns and operates a $5 billion portfolio of 51 apartment buildings in 12 states from Colorado to Florida. He cofounded the firm in 1991 and bought out his partners in 2003. He’s always been interested in extreme pursuits, ranging from flying an F-5 fighter jet to summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. “Challenge and purpose,” he told Forbes in January when asked why he’s drawn to adventures. “If you look at virtually every single thing I’ve done, it’s had both components.”

In all of his thrill-seeking endeavors, from traveling to the International Space Station to jumping out of a hot air balloon at 38,139 feet, Connor seeks to combine practical research with a proven track record of safety. Before becoming one of the world’s first commercial astronauts as part of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission in April 2022, Connor spent more than 700 hours over a period of 10 months training with NASA. To prepare for diving to the Titanic, he will become certified as a submersible pilot. “We will never do anything if we don’t believe we can do it safely and successfully,” he says.

After the Titanic, what’s next? “If I had the opportunity to go back to the International Space Station and do really worthwhile research, I would jump at that,” he says. “We have nothing formalized at this point, but I’m hopeful.”

ForbesMeet The Iranian-Born Billionaire Helping NASA Get Back To The Moon



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