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Search continues for missing submersible as rescue window narrows

Multiple search and rescue missions for a lost submersible with five people on board continue. With its oxygen supplies expected to run out by tomorrow morning, teams are fighting against the odds to locate it.

A submersible vessel with five people on board has gone missing in the Atlantic Ocean.

It was destined for an exploratory visit to the famous Titanic shipwreck site but lost contact with its mothership around 1 hour and 45 minutes into the 2-hour journey.

The 21-foot-long submersible, The Titan, is made of carbon fibre and titanium and weighs 23,000 pounds. It can remain submerged for up to 96 hours, with its supply of onboard oxygen tanks estimated to last until Thursday morning.

OceanGate Expeditions is a private company responsible for operating the original mission and others like it. Since losing contact, the company has reportedly mobilised ‘all of its available options’ to attempt to rescue the group on board.

The US, Canada, and France have also deployed ships and planes to search for the sub, but experienced members of the Navy have pointed out that ‘very few vessels’ are capable of venturing as deep as The Titan (4,000 metres), making the search more difficult.

On Tuesday, sonar devices reportedly detected ‘banging sounds’ underwater, occurring about 30 minutes apart and reoccurring four hours later. It’s unclear what the origin of the sound is and there remain no tangible signs of the vessel anywhere nearby.

The hunt continues today using sonar buoys, also known as sonobuoys, dropped onto the surface of the water by planes. These mechanisms send underwater pings to detect nearby vessels and listen for the sound of propellers and machinery.

France has also offered up high-tech robotic devices that can reach depths of up to 20,000 feet to help locate and identify the source of the banging. These robots are expected to be delivered to onsite search teams later tonight.

Who is on board The Titan?

Aboard the missing vessel is the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, Stockton Rush. He was piloting the vehicle as it ventured below the depths to explore the Titanic wreckage.

Joining him is British billionaire Hamish Harding, owner of Action Aviation. He is an experienced diver, holding a Guinness World Record for spending the longest dive time traversing the deepest part of the ocean.

Before The Titan’s dive, he posted to Instagram expressing his excitement about being able to visit the Titanic after ‘a weather window had opened up,’ allowing for the dive to proceed.

Well-known Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son, Suleman, were also on board. Shahzada is the vice chairman of an investment and holding company based in Karachi.

The final passenger is French dive expert Paul Henry Nargeolet. He is the director of underwater research for RMS Titanic, Inc., a US company which owns the rights to salvage and display artefacts recovered from the famous shipwreck.

Nargeolet has led six missions to the Titanic’s wreckage site in the past and is known as an expert on the sunken vessel.

The questionable design details

Securing a spot on The Titan costs a hefty $250,000 per person – a price that explorers have been paying for trips to the Titanic seafloor since 2021.

Ironically, though, the submersible doesn’t come across as very sophisticated when looking at the details. Firstly, it reportedly does not meet standard regulations for deep dive subs.

Internet sleuths have also obtained photo and video footage of previous missions, which suggest the Titan is controlled using a $30 Logitech game controller from 2010. It’s unclear whether this specific mission used the same controller, but surely not, when strong currents could make navigation difficult and risk crashing into a gigantic, metal shipwreck – right?

At the front of the vessel, there is located a small porthole from which passengers can look through to the undersea world. However, there is a TV monitor inside which shows more wide-scale views.

There are no seats on the Titan, requiring all passengers to sit on the floor. It is also impossible to stand when inside. It is equipped with a toilet, though, which is shielded for privacy by a drawback curtain.

Perhaps the most concerning of all, though, is that the vessel is bolted shut from the outside. Even if the vessel has returned to the surface, no one will be able to exit, get fresh air, or call for help.

If oxygen supplies run out, the group could suffocate inside the vessel despite being above water.

What is the likelihood of the Titan being found?

Experienced individuals in both the US Coast Guard and submarine building have emphasised the complex nature of this search and rescue mission.

It’s unclear whether the vessel has resurfaced or whether it has rested on the sea floor, making it impossible to know where exactly to search. If it’s on the seafloor, the extreme depths would limit feasible options to carry out a rescue.

The weather in the area has been unpredictable with poor visibility, making plane searches difficult. High winds are making the sea’s surface choppy, and considering the Titan is painted white, experts say spotting it from the air will be ‘a real challenge.’

Despite this extremely complicated and intense search effort, the periodic banging sounds remain a sliver of hope that those on board are alive. With an estimated 20 hours of oxygen supplies remaining, Joe MacInnis, a veteran Titanic diver, told the CNN:

‘[The banging sounds are] an indication, possibly, of human activity that is coordinated. This is the kind of thing that we hope [for]. We’re all engaged in this kind of collective imagination, what’s going on down there?

We’re beset with fear and sadness and hope and uncertainty. But these sounds have given us a sense of hope. And let’s hope that we can solve this problem before the oxygen runs out. We haven’t got much time left.’