Experts say rescue teams searching for the small submersible that disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in the direction of the wreck of the Titanic are facing a mammoth task that will test the limits of technical knowledge. International teams are working against the clock to locate the vessel with five people before the oxygen runs out in less than two days.
However, sweeping an ocean area of 20,000 km2 with depths of almost four kilometers will not be easy. Tim Maltin, an expert on the Titanic, described the conditions at the bottom of the ocean as very dark, cold, and with a wavy, muddy seabed. He compared the experience of searching for the submersible to being an astronaut on a space mission.
OceanGate Expeditions, in charge of the Titan submersible, charges $250,000 per spot for its excursions to the famous shipwreck. The vessel had three tourists on board, including British billionaire Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, and his son Suleman. Also on board were company CEO Stockton Rush and French submarine operator Paul-Henri Nargeolet, known as “Mr. Titanic” for his previous expeditions to the wreckage.
The US Coast Guard took over coordination of the search and rescue mission, but Captain Jamie Frederick admitted it was a much more ambitious operation than they are used to. A variety of search methods are being used, including C-130 aircraft and P3 planes equipped with sonar buoys. So far, the efforts have been unsuccessful.
The search was bolstered by a vessel with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that they hoped to deploy to the submersible’s last known position. Experts believe the Titan could be on the seabed, in the water column, or on the surface. Searching the seafloor is complicated by the irregular topography and extreme pressure at those depths.
Nuclear submarines generally operate at about 300 meters of depth, so finding a submersible at nearly four kilometers of depth presents considerable technical challenges. The rescue task remains complex and requires the collaboration of several agencies with experience in the area and specialized equipment.