‘Debris field’ discovered in proximity to Titanic wreck during ongoing search for submerged vehicle

Titanic

Enhanced Submersible Search Efforts for Missing Tourist Submersible Near Titanic Wreck

As the search for the lost Titanic tourist submersible intensifies, the U.S. Coast Guard has bolstered its operations by deploying additional ships and vessels. In a significant breakthrough, the underwater vehicle involved in the search has discovered a debris field near the Titanic wreck, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing around-the-clock rescue mission. The Coast Guard took to Twitter to announce the development, refraining from disclosing any specific details or confirming a direct connection between the debris and the Titanic. With the search surpassing the critical 96-hour mark, concerns about the submersible’s dwindling air supply are mounting.

When the Titan embarked on its mission on Sunday morning in the North Atlantic, it was estimated to have approximately 4 days’ worth of breathable air. However, experts caution that this estimation was approximate and could be extended if passengers have taken measures to conserve oxygen. The fate of the crew remains unknown since the submersible’s disappearance.

Rescue teams have swiftly dispatched ships, planes, and specialized equipment to the search area. The U.S. Coast Guard reported that a Canadian vessel equipped with an undersea robot had reached the sea floor, while a French research institute contributed a deep-diving robot armed with cameras, lights, and manipulator arms to assist in the operation.

Simultaneously, a Canadian surveillance vessel detected additional underwater sounds in the vicinity where search operations are underway.

Coast Guard officials have called for reinforcements, mobilizing more ships and vessels to scour the narrowed-down search area. However, the precise location and source of the sounds have yet to be determined. Covering an expansive area twice the size of Connecticut at depths of 2.5 miles, Captain Jamie Frederick of the First Coast Guard District emphasized that this remains a dedicated search and rescue mission.

“We are fully committed to search and rescue and will deploy every available asset in our efforts to locate the Titan and its crew members,” Frederick stated. Regarding the mysterious sounds, Frederick admitted, “We don’t have conclusive information about their origin at this point.” Retired Navy Capt. Carl Hartsfield, currently serving as the director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Systems Laboratory, urged caution, noting that the search teams need to consider the broader context and eliminate potential manmade sources before drawing definitive conclusions.

Titanic

Despite a glimmer of hope from some experts, significant obstacles still lie ahead. These include pinpointing the submersible’s exact location, reaching it with appropriate rescue equipment, and safely bringing it to the surface—assuming it remains intact—before the passengers’ oxygen supply depletes.

The search area in the North Atlantic where the Titan submersible vanished is notorious for fog and treacherous weather conditions, posing formidable challenges to the ongoing search and rescue operation, according to oceanographer Donald Murphy, former chief scientist of the Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol.

Following the detection of underwater noises in the search area by a Canadian military surveillance aircraft, a robotic vessel was dispatched to investigate. However, the initial results reported by the Coast Guard on Twitter indicated no significant findings. The Coast Guard refrained from offering further details on their theories regarding the source of the underwater sounds. If the submersible is still operational, its remaining oxygen supply may last only a day. In light of this, salvage equipment is being prepared in case the submersible is located.

The Coast Guard’s statement about hearing underwater sounds followed a report from Rolling Stone, which claimed that search teams had been hearing “banging sounds in the area every 30 minutes.” This report generated a degree of optimism among experts since submarine crews, unable to communicate with the surface, are trained to create audible signals by banging on the vessel’s hull, hoping to be detected by sonar.

Frank Owen, a submarine search and rescue expert, explained the significance of such sounds: “It sends a message that you’re probably using military techniques to find me, and this is how I’m saying it. So, that’s really encouraging if that’s the case.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, president of The Explorers Club, expressed heightened confidence in the search effort after engaging with officials from Congress, the U.S. military, and the White House, as detailed in an open letter addressed to club members.

Nevertheless, no official sources have publicly revealed knowledge of the precise origin of the underwater noises.

Amid the ongoing operation, questions persist regarding how search teams can reach the lost submersible, which may be situated at depths of approximately 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) near the resting place of the historic ocean liner.

Furthermore, newly uncovered allegations suggest that significant safety concerns were raised during the development of the vessel.

The missing submersible carried pilot Stockton Rush, CEO of the company leading the expedition, along with four passengers: a British adventurer, two members of a Pakistani business family, and a Titanic expert.

Authorities declared the 22-foot carbon-fiber vessel overdue on Sunday night, triggering the extensive search efforts approximately 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John’s. According to David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate Expeditions overseeing the mission, the submersible initially had a four-day supply of oxygen when it embarked at 6 a.m. on Sunday. Frank Owen commented that the estimated 96-hour oxygen supply serves as a valuable target for searchers but is based on the assumption of “nominal consumption by the average human under certain circumstances.” Owen also speculated that the diver aboard the Titan would likely advise passengers to “minimize metabolic levels to extend the 96-hour window.”

Chris Brown, a British adventurer who had initially booked a spot on the Titan but withdrew due to safety concerns, expressed mixed feelings about the reported sounds. Brown stated, "If the sounds are coming from below the water indicator, then that indicates that they may be alive in the water, but now we've got time pressures in getting them up to the surface." He previously criticized the use of a commercially available video game controller to steer the submersible. However, OceanGate defended the vessel's design, stating that many components were selected from trusted off-the-shelf options for their reliability.
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Regarding the vessel’s safety, Rush assured in an interview last year that the controller was “meant for a 16-year-old to throw it around” and demonstrated its durability by tossing it around the Titan’s confined cabin. Spare controllers were also kept onboard as a precautionary measure.

The submersible was equipped with seven backup systems to facilitate resurfacing, including the deployment of sandbags, shedding lead pipes, and an inflatable balloon.

Aaron Newman, who had been a passenger on the Titan in the past, described the conditions passengers would face in the submersible if it were below a couple of hundred meters without power. Newman explained that complete darkness and cold temperatures would prevail: “It was cold when we were at the bottom. You had layered up. You had wool hats on and were doing everything to stay warm at the bottom.” Jeff Karson, a professor emeritus of earth and environmental sciences at Syracuse University, noted that the temperature just above freezing, combined with the vessel’s depth, renders it inaccessible for human divers. Karson suggested that deploying a remotely operated robot through a fiber optic cable may present the best chance of reaching the submersible.

In light of recently unearthed documents, concerns have emerged regarding the safety of the vessel’s development process.

A 2018 lawsuit brought by David Lochridge, OceanGate’s director of marine operations, alleged insufficient testing and certification, potentially exposing passengers to extreme danger in an experimental submersible. OceanGate countered the claims, asserting that Lochridge was not an engineer and was not involved in the engineering aspects of the Titan. The company also clarified that the vessel under development at the time was a prototype and not the missing Titan.

The Marine Technology Society, a professional group of ocean engineers, technologists, policymakers, and educators, also expressed concern in a letter to OceanGate’s CEO, emphasizing the need for third-party tests to be conducted on the prototype before its launch to ensure passenger safety. These documents were initially reported by The New York Times.

The search for the missing submersible has garnered international attention, with individuals and officials worldwide expressing their hopes for a safe return. Crown Prince Hamadan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum of Dubai conveyed his prayers for the safety and hopeful return of the missing British adventurer, Hamish Harding.

Similarly, employees of Shahzada Dawood’s Pakistani firms in Karachi, as well as government officials, expressed their prayers for the safe return of Shahzada and his son Suleman, who were also on board the submersible. Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a French explorer and Titanic expert, was another passenger aboard the vessel.

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Robert Murrett, currently serving as deputy director of the Institute for Security Policy and Law at Syracuse University, emphasized that the disappearance of the submersible highlights the inherent dangers of operating in deep waters and engaging in recreational exploration of the sea and space. Murrett noted that these environments have witnessed individuals operating in hazardous and potentially lethal conditions in recent times, highlighting the fallacy that modern technology guarantees accident-free endeavors.

The search operation continues in the North Atlantic, characterized by challenging conditions, including fog and stormy weather, which further complicate the search-and-rescue mission. The U.S. Coast Guard, along with international partners, is committed to deploying all available assets to locate the Titan and its crew members.

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