Race to find missing Titanic submersible has crews ‘working around the clock’

Click to play video: 'Crews racing to find missing Titanic tourist submersible: ‘It would be a miracle if they’re recovered alive’'
Crews racing to find missing Titanic tourist submersible: ‘It would be a miracle if they’re recovered alive’
WATCH: Crews racing to find missing Titanic tourist submersible: 'It would be a miracle if they're recovered alive' – Jun 20, 2023

The U.S. Coast Guard says the crew aboard a missing submersible ship in the Atlantic Ocean may have less than 40 hours of oxygen left.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick told reporters in Boston Tuesday rescuers are working hard to find Titan, a OceanGate Expeditions’ submersible that was reported overdue on Sunday some 700 kilometers south of St. John’s, N.L.

“This is a very complex search, and the unified team is working around the clock,” Frederick told a news conference.

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic sub: Estimated 40 hours of oxygen left on vessel as search ongoing'
Missing Titanic sub: Estimated 40 hours of oxygen left on vessel as search ongoing

Five people are reported to be on the sub, which was on a mission to document the wreckage of the Titanic ship wreck. The submersible had a 96-hour oxygen supply when it was put to sea at roughly 6 a.m. Eastern Sunday, according to David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate.

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The U.S. Coast Guard, which is searching for the missing submersible with assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard, said Tuesday it is expanding its search into the Atlantic’s deeper waters. So far, their searches haven’t yielded any results.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 25,000 square kilometres had been searched.

Late Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard said it had established a unified command with the Canadian Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and OceanGate that will continue to oversee the search.

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic sub: What’s inside the vessel?'
Missing Titanic sub: What’s inside the vessel?

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray told reporters in Ottawa Tuesday the Canadian Coast Guard ship John Cabot, which is equipped with sonar, is headed to the site. Two other ships were in St. John’s ready to port equipment as necessary.

“There is a unified command under the U.S. Coast Guard leadership that Canada is playing a very committed role in. We are working to find this submersible and if at all possible, find it and bring it up to the surface and bring it to in time to rescue those aboard,” Murray said, adding the U.K. and Germany were also assisting in the search.

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The Department of National Defence told Global News in a statement later on Tuesday that a Royal Canadian Navy vessel, the HMCS Glace Bay, is also enroute carrying a medical team specializing in dive medicine, as well as a six-person mobile hyperbaric recompression chamber.

Separately, a French research ship carrying its own deep-sea diving robot vessel was dispatched to the search area at the request of the U.S. Navy and was expected to arrive Wednesday night local time, the Ifremer research institute said.

What happened?

Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, which was supporting the Titan, reportedly lost contact with the vessel roughly an hour and 45 minutes after it submerged.

What caused it to lose contact with the Polar Prince is not clear.

This Global News graphic shows the distance between St. John’s and the last point of contact with Titan, an OceanGate Expeditions that went missing Sunday. Global News graphic

The U.S. Coast Guard said one pilot and four “mission specialists” were aboard. Those mission specialists are people who pay a reported US$250,000 a piece to come along on OceanGate’s expeditions. They take turns operating sonar equipment and performing other tasks in the five-person submersible.

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The Polar Prince was scheduled to do surface searches throughout Monday. A Canadian aircraft P3 Aurora arrived on scene to conduct sonar searches Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday. It initially said a Canadian P8 Poseidon aircraft would do aerial searches in the morning, but Canada does not operate Poseidon aircrafts.

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic sub: How could the vessel disappear?'
Missing Titanic sub: How could the vessel disappear?

CBS journalist David Pogue, who went on the trip last year, noted his vessel got turned around looking for the Titanic.

“There’s no GPS underwater, so the surface ship is supposed to guide the sub to the shipwreck by sending text messages,” Pogue said in a segment aired on CBS Sunday Morning.

“But on this dive, communications somehow broke down. The sub never found the wreck.”

Alfred Hagen, an American businessman who was part of two previous expeditions on Titan, told Global News he knows all too well what the missing crew members may be facing — some of whom he knows personally.

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“It pains me deeply to think of them gasping for air as the clock runs out on them,” he said.

“When you’re going that deep, (the submersible is) withstanding pressures unknown anywhere else on earth. A lot of times you can’t get radio signals. That’s why losing communications doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a problem.”

Although Hagen’s expeditions successfully located the Titanic wreck with sonar, he said it was a difficult undertaking, which speaks to the challenge facing the search and rescue teams.

“You’re really looking for a needle at the bottom of the sea,” he said.

Click to play video: 'OceanGate warned of potential ‘catastrophic’ problems with tourist submersible: NYT report'
OceanGate warned of potential ‘catastrophic’ problems with tourist submersible: NYT report

Trip was OceanGate’s third annual voyage to Titanic

The goal of OceanGate’s expeditions has been chronicling the Titanic’s deterioration as well as the underwater ecosystem that shipwrecks often spawn.

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The expedition was OceanGate’s third annual voyage to chronicle the deterioration of Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing all but about 700 of the roughly 2,200 passengers and crew.

Since its discovery in 1985, the infamous ocean liner has been slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria. Some experts have predicted Titanic could vanish in a matter of decades as holes yawn in the hull and sections disintegrate.

Titan weighs 20,000 pounds in the air, but is ballasted to be neutrally buoyant once it reaches the seafloor, the company said. In a May 2021 court filing, OceanGate said Titan had an “unparalleled safety feature” that assesses the integrity of the hull throughout every dive.

Click to play video: 'Missing Titanic tour submersible: Search operation underway off N.L. coast'
Missing Titanic tour submersible: Search operation underway off N.L. coast

During its expedition in 2022, OceanGate reported that the submersible had a battery issue on its first dive, and had to be manually attached to its lifting platform, according to a November court filing.

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More missions, however, followed. OceanGate has described the submersible as a “state-of-the-art vessel” that “is lighter, more spacious and more comfortable than any other deep-diving submersible exploring the ocean today.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. businessman remembers Titanic excursion on submarine'
B.C. businessman remembers Titanic excursion on submarine

OceanGate said its focus was on those aboard and their families.

“We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep-sea companies in our efforts to reestablish contact with the submersible,” it said in a statement.

Expert says rescuers face steep challenges

Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, said submersibles typically have a drop weight — that is, “a mass they can release in the case of an emergency to bring them up to the surface using buoyancy.”

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“If there was a power failure and/or communication failure, this might have happened, and the submersible would then be bobbing about on the surface waiting to be found,” Greig said.

Another scenario is a leak in the pressure hull, in which case the prognosis is not good, he added.

Click to play video: '1st 3D scan of Titanic shipwreck unveiled'
1st 3D scan of Titanic shipwreck unveiled

“If it has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, options are very limited,” Greig said.

“While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers.”

Even if they could go that deep, he doubts they could attach to the hatch of OceanGate’s submersible.

— with files from Global’s Shallima Maharaj, The Associated Press and Reuters


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