Rescue efforts were expanding and underwater noises were detected in the search for the missing submersible carrying five passengers to the Titanic wreckage site, a Coast Guard official said Wednesday.
An expert submariner from the British Royal Navy, a team of French specialists on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and more ships and underwater vessels were joining the search, said Capt. Jamie Frederick, the First Coast Guard District response coordinator, in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The search was growing “exponentially” across a surface area roughly two times the size of Connecticut and 2.5 miles deep, he said.
“There is an enormous complexity associated with this case, due to the location being so far offshore and the coordination between multiple agencies and nations,” Frederick said.
The 22-foot submersible lost contact with its support ship Sunday about an hour and 45 minutes into its dive. On board are a British adventurer, two members of a prominent Pakistani business family, a Titanic expert and the CEO of OceanGate, the Washington state-based company that operates the vehicle.
Five vessels on the ocean’s surface were searching for the submersible, called Titan, and five more were expected to join the effort, Frederick said. Underwater, two ROVs were searching and “several more” were on the way and expected to arrive by Thursday morning to scan the sea floor, he said. Aircraft also were searching throughout the day.
“The equipment that is onsite and coming is the most sophisticated in the world and certainly capable of reaching those depths,” said Sean Leet, chief executive of Horizon Maritime, a Canadian company that co-owns the research vessel that launched the Titan.
The U.S. Navy said early Wednesday afternoon that a special deep-water salvage system capable of hoisting up to 60,000 pounds had reached St. John’s, Canada, and could be used to lift the Titan to the surface, though it may not be ready for another 24 hours. The Titan weighs 20,000 pounds
Search ships were redirected Tuesday after “multiple” aircraft detected underwater noises in the area. Navy acoustic analysts were studying the sounds, which were heard again Wednesday, he said.
“We don’t know what they are,” Frederick said. “The good news is, we’re searching in the area where the noises were detected.”
Frederick said there are “limited rations” aboard the vessel, and experts feared it had less than a day’s supply of oxygen left. Any decision about changing the search and rescue mission to a recovery mission would involve discussions with family members, Frederick said.
“When you’re in the middle of a search and rescue case, you always have hope,” he said.
The news comes as more information emerged about experts’ attempts to warn OceanGate about the perils of its operations. Documents show an employee warned there might be safety problems posed by the way the experimental vehicle was developed, and leaders in the submersible craft industry told the company its approach to the enterprise could have a “catastrophic” outcome.
Documents in a federal court in Virginia that oversees matters involving the Titanic’s sinking also show the Titan had problems from its very first voyage in the summer of 2021, including issues with its electrical system and battery. Some of those were solved along the way, while others required a trip cancelation, the documents said.
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There’s a good chance the banging noises heard by search crews came from the submersible, according to Nikolas Xiros, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering at the University of New Orleans.
Xiros told USA TODAY that’s good news and bad news. If the noises came from the Titan, it might mean people on board are trying to communicate. However, Xiros said that because sound can travel long distances and doesn’t move in a straight path underwater, it might not help narrow down the submersible’s position very much.
“This is an encouraging sign, a small one, but still an encouraging sign,” Xiros said.
There’s also a chance the sounds came from another source, such as the Titanic itself, Xiros said. If they came from the missing submersible, they could have been made by the occupants banging a metal tool or object against the side of it.
The people on board may be facing increasingly dangerous conditions. Xiros said in addition to oxygen possibly running out, the vessel has probably lost power, meaning it’s dark and cold inside. Xiros said at the depths the Titan can go, it could be barely above freezing.
“If a lack of oxygen doesn’t get them,” he said, “what’s going to get them is going to be hypothermia.”
On “CBS This Morning” early Wednesday, U.S. Coast Guard First District Commander Rear Adm. John Mauger said there are “a lot of metal and different objects in the water around the site.” He added: “We don’t know the source of that noise, but we’ve shared that information with Navy experts to classify it.”
Even as he declared the Titan submersible “pretty much invulnerable,’’ OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush made it clear he wasn’t against taking risks or breaking some rules.
His company’s expeditions to the Titanic wreckage site catered to thrill-seekers, and wealthy ones at that, with a voyage costing $250,000.
Lawsuits, experts’ warnings and a reporter’s first-person account are now shedding light on the extreme danger of a trip nearly 2½ miles in depth to the bottom of the ocean aboard the experimental Titan, where five people – including Rush – hope to get rescued before possibly running out of oxygen Thursday morning.
But that won’t keep extreme adventurers from pursuing their next thrill, such as tourist space travel, analysts say.
David Lochridge, OceanGate’s director of marine operations, wrote an engineering report in 2018 that said the craft under development needed more testing and passengers might be endangered when it reached “extreme depths,” according to a lawsuit filed that year in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
OceanGate sued Lochridge that year, accusing him of breaching a nondisclosure agreement, and he filed a counterclaim alleging he was wrongfully fired for raising questions about testing and safety. The case was settled on undisclosed terms several months after it was filed.
Lochridge’s concerns primarily focused on the company’s decision to rely on sensitive acoustic monitoring – cracking or popping sounds made by the hull under pressure – to detect flaws, rather than a scan of the hull. Lochridge said the company told him no equipment existed that could perform such a test on the 5-inch-thick carbon-fiber hull.
— The Associated Press
A Canadian aircraft heard “underwater noises in the search area,” the U.S. Coast Guard announced on Twitter early Wednesday. The noises prompted remotely operated vehicle operations to search for the origin of the noises.
“Those ROV searches have yielded negative results but continue,” the Coast Guard said. “Additionally, the data from the P-3 aircraft has been shared with our U.S. Navy experts for further analysis which will be considered in future search plans.”
Three vessels arrived on the scene Wednesday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Twitter. “The John Cabot has side-scanning sonar capabilities and is conducting search patterns alongside the Skandi Vinland and the Atlantic Merlin,” the Coast Guard said. Side-scan sonar is used to detect and image objects on the sea floor, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Search crews were facing winds gusts up to 30 mph and ocean swells up to 7 feet, the Coast Guard said.
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The news came after crews detected “banging” and “acoustic feedback” sounds Tuesday while searching for the Titan submersible, according to an internal memo sent to Department of Homeland Security leadership obtained by Rolling Stone and CNN.
A Canadian aircraft heard the banging sounds every 30 minutes, according to the memo. Additional sonar was deployed and the banging could still be heard four hours later. The internal update did not say what time the banging was heard or exactly how long it lasted.
Titan is about 8 feet high, 9 feet wide, 22 feet long and weighs 23,000 pounds, according to the OceanGate website. Images posted to the website show people seated on the ground in the small, open space with their legs crossed. Science writer David Pogue previously said the vessel has about as much room as a minivan.
Previous versions of the website, accessed by USA TODAY through the Internet Archive, said passengers are advised to “restrict your diet before and during the dive to reduce the likelihood that you will need to use the facilities.” Passengers might assist with a variety of tasks on the submersible, the website says, including sonar operation, taking photos or videos and helping the pilot with communications between the sub and the surface.
OceanGate operates three five-person submersibles and says it has completed at least 14 expeditions and more than 200 dives in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, according to the website. Unlike submarines, which are fully autonomous, submersibles have limited power reserves, so they require a support ship that can launch and recover them.
Frederick said the Titan had “about 40 hours of breathable air left” around 1 p.m. ET Tuesday, meaning its oxygen supply could run out by Thursday morning.
An underwater robot had started searching in the vicinity of the Titanic, he said, and there was a push to get salvage equipment to the scene in case the sub is found. Besides that, three C-130 aircraft and three C-17 transport planes from the U.S. military have been aiding the search, and the Canadian military said it provided a patrol aircraft and two surface ships.
Red flags raised:Reporter who rode Titanic submarine says there were ‘many red flags’
Still, the remote location − 900 miles east of Cape Cod and up 13,000 feet below the sea − makes the pursuit “an incredibly complex operation,” Frederick said. As of Tuesday, 10,000 square miles had been searched. The Coast Guard in Boston was combing the ocean surface and below water using tools including sonar technology and aircraft.
The carbon-fiber and titanium submersible had a 96-hour oxygen supply when it took to sea at about 6 a.m. Sunday, according to David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate Expeditions, the deep-sea exploration company that owns the vessel. The watercraft was lost contact with its support ship, the Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, about an hour and 45 minutes after submerging.
Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, said those aboard the submersible would be experiencing organ failure as oxygen levels dip and less oxygen flows to the brain, leading to weakness, confusion and loss of consciousness. Anxiety, fear, speech and a faster heart rate can increase the amount of oxygen a person uses, he said.
The submersible’s ability to filter out carbon dioxide also is concerning if it is compromised, said Dr. Alexander Isakov, Emory University emergency medicine physician and a former diving medical officer with the U.S. Navy. Life-threatening hypothermia is a concern, too, he said. The submersible’s ability to maintain a comfortable temperature is essential amid the extreme cold of the ocean’s depths.
— Nada Hassanein
Jim Bellingham, a Johns Hopkins University expert on deep-sea operations, told USA TODAY there are three possible locations for the submersible: floating on the ocean’s surface after an electrical failure or some other mishap; drifting in the water column − anywhere between the surface and the bottom − because it became buoyantly neutral; or on the sea floor, perhaps tangled with something that won’t let it float to the surface.
The first one is by far the best position, Bellingham said, because even though it would be difficult to spot the Titan amid ocean waves, “the Coast Guard is just awesome at this. They have amazing capability to see something pretty small in the ocean.”
Missing Titanic submersible:Maps, graphics show last location, depth and design
OceanGate was warned its approach to the enterprise could have a “catastrophic” outcome, according to a 2018 letter written by leaders in the submersible craft industry obtained by The New York Times.
The letter was addressed to OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush − who is on board the missing vessel, according to the company − by members of the Marine Technology Society, an organization that advocates for ocean technology and education.
The more than 30 signatories said they were apprehensive about the company’s “experimental” approach to its planned exploration of the Titanic wreckage and about the vessel’s design, believing they could lead to safety problems that would hurt the industry as a whole.
The letter also says OceanGate’s claim that its watercraft design meets or surpasses safety standards is “misleading to the public and breaches an industry-wide professional code of conduct we all endeavor to uphold.”
- Stockton Rush, 61, CEO of OceanGate, who co-founded the company in 2009.
- Paul-Henry Nargeolet, 73, a French maritime explorer and director of the Underwater Research Program at Premier Exhibitions, RMS Titanic Inc., the only company with exclusive rights to recover the artifacts from the Titanic wreck.
- Hamish Harding, 58, a British explorer, private jet dealer and chairman of Action Aviation, a global sales company in business aviation.
- Shahzada Dawood, 48, a member of one of Pakistan’s most prominent families.
- Suleman Dawood, son of Shahzada Dawood.
— Isabelle Butera, USA TODAY
The Titanic lies about 370 miles off Newfoundland, Canada, in the North Atlantic. The submersible was traveling to the wreckage site of the Titanic about 2½ miles below the surface.
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, Claire Thornton, Thao Nguyen and Francisco Guzman, USA TODAY