A Canadian military plane has detected underwater “banging” sounds during the search for a submersible craft that was lost as it dived to the Titanic wreck, providing faint hope, with estimated oxygen supplies dwindling, that the vessel’s five crew may still be alive.
The U.S. Coast Guard said an Aurora aircraft picked up the noises on Tuesday and again Wednesday, but cautioned that the nature of the sounds was unclear. The 21-foot Titan was reported overdue 700 kilometres off the southeastern coast of Newfoundland on Sunday.
That has prompted a frantic international search effort as the clock counts down on the 96 hours of breathable air the submersible was believed to have, a supply expected to run out Thursday morning.
“We’re searching where the noises are,” said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Jamie Frederick. ”This is a search-and-rescue mission, 100 per cent.”
Three vessels arrived at the scene early Wednesday, including the Canadian Coast Guard Ship John Cabot, which has side-scanning sonar. Capt. Frederick said that although a U.S. Navy analysis of the sounds was “inconclusive,” he hadn’t given up hope of saving the people on the submersible, which includes a British billionaire explorer, two members of a prominent Pakistani business family, and a French Titanic expert.
The U.S. Coast Guard is co-ordinating the effort, but a global fleet has descended on the area where the submersible disappeared. Canada’s CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft can search below the surface of the water by dropping sonar-equipped buoys that transmit signals back to the aircraft.
Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed that the Royal Canadian Navy had also dispatched HMCS Glace Bay, a maritime coastal-defence vessel, to help with the search.
In Ottawa, the minister responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard, Joyce Murray, said the mounting bills for the U.S.-led mission were “irrelevant” as long as there is a chance of saving those on the submersible. “I think we have to retain hope as part of what we are doing as a human community to find the explorers and bring them to safety,” she said.
Questions remain about how the Titan could be rescued even if it was found, possibly as deep as 12,500 feet, where the wreckage of the famed ocean liner lies. Capt. Frederick said on Tuesday that an underwater robot had started searching in the vicinity of the Titanic and that there was a push to get salvage equipment to the scene in case the sub is found.
The owner of the ship that launched the submersible on Sunday, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that one of its vessels was now on its way to the Titanic site with a deep-water remote operated vehicle to help with the effort.
“The equipment that’s been mobilized for this is the finest in the world, the most capable in the world,” said Sean Leet, chair of Horizon Maritime Services, during a press conference in St. John’s. “Some of that equipment is certainly capable of reaching those depths.”
Prominent British Columbia businessman Ron Toigo has descended into the depths of the ocean on the Titan the past two summers and, in 2018, was involved in a test run of the mini-sub.
During his trip in 2021, they were unable to reach the Titanic because weights that help the sub descend wouldn’t come off, leaving them sitting on the ocean floor for about four hours. But the weights decomposed after a period of time and allowed the sub to float to the surface. The following year, “everything was just perfect,” he said, and they were able to glide over the bow of the Titanic and view its famous grand staircase and the captain’s quarters.
He said there are a number of safety features aboard the vessel and he’s confident that, with “some of the smartest guys in the world” aboard, it’s only a matter of time before the crew is found. He said there are safety briefings before any trip and that crew are well prepared.
“The banging is very encouraging. I gotta believe with all the technology they have now, they’re gonna find it,” said Mr. Toigo. “I’m hopeful and praying that they make it out okay.”
He said one concern raised in previous trips was the potential to get caught in fishing nets that pollute the ocean. He also said that the on-board oxygen supply could be greater than estimated.
“Five days of air is an estimate based on normal working conditions, when everybody’s moving around and burning a lot of energy and putting off a lot of carbon dioxide,” he said. “If you’re not burning off and making more carbon dioxide, they're going to have more time.”
The five-person crew on Sunday’s expedition included Hamish Harding, a British businessman who lives in Dubai. Mr. Harding is a billionaire adventurer who holds three Guinness World Records and went into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket in June, 2022.
French explorer and Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet is on board, according to a social-media post by Mr. Harding. A former French navy officer, Mr. Nargeolet has completed 37 dives to the wreck, according to a professional profile.
Shahzada and Suleman Dawood, members of one of Pakistan’s most prominent families, were also on the vessel, according to a family statement. The father and son’s company, Dawood Hercules Corp., based in Karachi, is involved in agriculture, petrochemicals and telecommunication infrastructure.
The fifth crew member was OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, a company spokesperson confirmed by e-mail. In 2021, OceanGate began what it expected to become an annual voyage to chronicle the deterioration of the wreck, which has been slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria since its discovery in 1985.
In describing its first expedition, OceanGate said that, in addition to archeologists and marine biologists, the expeditions would include roughly 40 paid tourists. The initial group of tourists was financing the expedition by spending anywhere from US$100,000 to US$150,000 apiece.
With files from Joy SpearChief-Morris and Ian Bailey, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press