Friday, May 24, 2024

Search for Titanic tourist submersible intensifies as potential oxygen supply runs low

(BBC News) A massive search and rescue effort is continuing in the North Atlantic after a submersible exploring the wreck of the Titanic went missing deep in the ocean on Sunday. There are five people on board.

Researchers aboard the Polar Prince – its mothership on the surface – lost contact with the crew shortly after the Titan began its dive. There is limited oxygen on board, and it is estimated that supplies are set to run out by around 10:00 GMT (06:00 EDT) on Thursday.

Undersea noises have now been detected in the search area, but it is not known where they are coming from or what they mean.

U.S., Canadian, and French agencies are working together to locate the submersible, and the tour firm OceanGate says it is exploring all options to get it back safely. Here is what we know so far …

A Canadian search plane has picked up underwater noises. Deep-sea experts say it is hard to determine what these noises might be without seeing the data.

It is possible they could be short, sharp, relatively high frequency noises made from within the vessel by hitting a hard object against the end of the sub.

The U.S. Coast Guard has sent remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to search under the surface in that area.

Planes are continuing to search from the air, in case Titan has returned to the ocean’s surface but somehow lost communications.

A French vessel equipped with a deep-sea underwater robot should arrive in the area by Wednesday afternoon, local time.

Professor Alistair Greig, a submarine expert from University College London, says one of the big problems is that rescuers do not know whether the Titan is on the surface or the seabed; it is very unlikely to be in between.

He has worked through a couple of scenarios. One is that it released a “drop weight” after an emergency, in order to bring it to the surface.

“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,” he said.

Another possibility is that the hull was compromised resulting in a leak. “Then the prognosis is not good,” he says.

The wreck of the Titanic sits 3,800 metres beneath the surface of the Atlantic. If the submersible has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, the options are very limited.

We know there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers. The vehicles designed for navy submarine rescues can’t get anywhere near as deep as would be needed.

According to OceanGate, the company that owns it, Titan is one of only five manned submersibles in the world capable of reaching the depth required.

The U.S. Navy has an ROV that can operate at that depth and used it to locate and recover a crashed fighter jet from a depth of 3,780 metres in the South China Sea last year.

In that case, the U.S. military used the ROV to attach rigging around the aircraft and connect it to a lifting hook that was lowered from a crane on the rescue vessel on the surface.

The five people on board are:

  • Hamish Harding, a 58-year-old British businessman and explorer
  • Shahzada Dawood, 48, also a British businessman, and his son Suleman Dawood, 19
  • Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a 77-year-old French explorer nicknamed “Mr. Titanic”
  • Stockton Rush, 61, is the chief executive of OceanGate, the firm behind the dive

OceanGate Expeditions charges guests $250,000 for a place on its eight-day expedition to see the wreck of the Titanic.

The site is about 600 km off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland, and lies in two parts, with the bow and the stern separated by about 800 metres. A huge debris field surrounds the broken vessel.

A full dive to the wreck, including the descent and ascent, reportedly takes eight hours and each trip is meant to include a scientific objective, including studying the wreck’s decay.

The inaugural dive took place in 2021, according to the company’s website.

The Titan is small and narrow, measuring just 670 cm x 280 cm x 250 cm and can carry a crew of just five people – a pilot and four passengers, who have to sit on the floor and have limited room to move around.

Aside from taking divers to the wreck of the Titanic, it is used for site survey and inspection, research and data collection, film and media production, and deep sea testing of hardware and software.

According to the company, the Titan is “outfitted with state-of-the-art lighting and sonar navigation systems plus internally and externally mounted 4K video and photographic equipment.”

The Polar Prince arrived near the Titanic wreck on Sunday morning, and the Titan was launched at 08:00 local time. It was expected to resurface at 15:00. Contact was lost one hour and 45 minutes into its descent, at about 09:45.

The Coast Guard said they were notified of the problem at about 17:45 – eight hours later. The agency’s command centre in Boston then began co-ordinating search efforts.

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