The U.S. Coast Guard says a debris field found by searchers near the Titanic on Thursday is wreckage from the missing Titan submersible.
An international search effort led by the U.S. Coast Guard that included Canada had been racing against the clock to locate OceanGate Expeditions’ vessel and the crew aboard. It was estimated to have a 96-hour supply of oxygen when it launched Sunday morning in the North Atlantic.
OceanGate said in its own statement the five people on board “have sadly been lost.”
“The debris field is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear-Adm. John Mauger told reporters in Boston.
Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard said a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) discovered a debris field within its search area near the Titanic. Canadian vessel Horizon Arctic and French ship L’Atalante deployed ROVs on Thursday morning.
Undersea expert Paul Hankin told reporters the ROV found five pieces of debris which led them to conclude they had found the remains of the Titan.
The nose cone was found first, nearly 500 metres from the bow of the Titanic, followed by the “large” debris field where Hankin said the front end belt of the pressure hull was discovered.
“That was the first indication that there was a catastrophic event,” he said.
The other end of the pressure hull was found in a second, smaller debris field nearby, Hankin added, “which … basically comprised the totality of that pressure vessel.”
Officials said the location of the debris was consistent with the Titan’s approximate location when the surface vessel, the Polar Prince, lost communication with the submersible on Sunday. There was also no Titanic wreckage in that area, leaving no doubt the debris is the remains of the Titan, they added.
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The five passengers aboard the submersible were identified as a British billionaire adventurer, a wealthy Pakistani businessman and his son, a French explorer and the CEO of OceanGate.
Mauger could not say if the bodies of the passengers could be recovered.
“This is an incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the seafloor,” he said.
“We’ll continue to work and continue to search the area down there, but I don’t have an answer for prospects (of finding human remains) at this time.”
In its statement, OceanGate called the five men — identified as Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Paul-Henri Nargeolet and the company’s CEO Stockton Rush — “true explorers.”
“Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew,” the company said.
International searchers rushed more ships and vessels to the site of the disappearance Thursday, hoping underwater sounds detected by Canadian aircraft and sonar buoys for over two days might narrow their search. They expanded the coverage area to thousands of kilometres – twice the size of Connecticut and in waters nearly four kilometres deep.
“There doesn’t appear to be any connection between the noises and the location (of the debris),” Mauger said.
“This was a catastrophic implosion of the vessel, which would have generated a significant broadband sound down there that the sonobuoys would have picked up.”
Condolences poured in from around the world in reaction to the grim discovery.
“Tragic news that those on the Titan submersible, including three British citizens, have been lost following an international search operation,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Twitter. “The UK government is closely supporting the families affected and expresses our deepest condolences.”
Pakistan also offered condolences to the father-and-son Pakistani nationals who were members of one of the country’s most prominent families.
“Our deepest condolences to the Dawood family and the family of other passengers on the sad news about the fate of Titanic submersible in the North Atlantic,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter. “We appreciate the multinational efforts over the last several days in search of the vessel.”
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The family’s firm, Dawood Hercules Corp., based in Karachi, is involved in agriculture, petrochemicals and telecommunication infrastructure.
The Titan was reported overdue Sunday afternoon about 700 kilometres south of St. John’s, N.L. It was on its way to where the Titanic sank more than a century ago. OceanGate, an undersea exploration company, has been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around it since 2021.
OceanGate has been criticized for using a simple commercially available video-game controller to steer the Titan. The company has said that many of the vessel’s parts are off-the-shelf because they have proved to be dependable.
One of the company’s first customers characterized a dive he made to the site two years ago as a “kamikaze operation.”
“Imagine a metal tube a few metres long with a sheet of metal for a floor. You can’t stand. You can’t kneel. Everyone is sitting close to or on top of each other,” said Arthur Loibl, a retired businessman and adventurer from Germany.
“You can’t be claustrophobic.”
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During the 2.5-hour descent and ascent, the lights were turned off to conserve energy, he said, with the only illumination coming from a fluorescent glow stick.
The dive was repeatedly delayed to fix a problem with the battery and the balancing weights. In total, the voyage took 10.5 hours.
J. Kim Vandiver, a professor of mechanical and ocean engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Global News in an interview that deep-sea submersibles like the Titan are designed to not only withstand the pressure of certain depths but also a finite number of dives to those levels.
As the Titan took more and more dives to the ocean floor, he said, the pressure hull likely began to grow “little tiny micro-cracks” from the fatigue brought on by multiple high-pressure descents.
“What’s happening is that every time it dives to a deep depth, it is using up some of its safe life,” he said.
Salvatore Mercogliano, a history professor at Campbell University in North Carolina who focuses on maritime history and policy, told the Associated Press the people on the Polar Prince likely didn’t immediately call for help after losing communication with the Titan on Sunday because the submersible had previously experienced communication failures — so such an occurrence didn’t raise immediate alarms.
The vessel used a rudimentary system that basically communicated with the surface ship through text message, Mercogliano said.
“They’ve lost communications before. And so what it appears is when they lost communications, they did not assume that this was a disaster at all,” Mercogliano said.
“They probably were waiting for what was would have been the end of the scheduled voyage. And they probably waited for the period when they expected the Titan to come back to the surface,” he speculated. “They were unable to locate it. And then they knew they had an emergency.”
— with files from The Associated Press