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"Underwater Noises" Detected in Search Area for Missing Submersible

submersible search Titanic
OceanGate is operating from the chartered Polar Prince (Miawpukek Horizon Marine Services photo courtesy of OceanGate)

Published Jun 20, 2023 4:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday night, the U.S. Coast Guard reported a possible sign of progress in the search for a missing submersible near the Titanic wreck site in the North Atlantic. A Canadian P-3 maritime patrol aircraft detected "underwater noises" in the search area on Tuesday, the Coast Guard reported.

It is the first clue that responders have found, and underwater ROV search operations were relocated in order to investigate origin of the noises. The initial results of those ROV searches were negative, the USCG said, but the effort continues. 

The U.S. and Canadian teams are being broadly assisted by the U.S. Navy and private teams in what the USCG is calling a “very complex” search with the clock running down with an estimated 40 hours of breathable air remaining inside the submersible.

The search as of midday had covered approximately 7,600 square miles in a position roughly 900 miles east of Cape Code, Massachusetts, and 400 miles south of St. John's, Newfoundland. The USCG is leading the unified command using the best available experts but notes they are looking for a 21-foot submersible in the vast Atlantic. They do not know if the vessel sunk after it lost contact approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes into its dive or if it was able to drop its weights and surface. The five people aboard however are sealed inside and  dependent on the external crew to release them. OceanGate, which built and operates the submersible, estimated to the USCG that there was a maximum of 96 hours of oxygen and the vessel is powered by batteries, but no duration for the batteries has been announced.

The search on the surface is being led by the USCG using C130 aircraft with both visual surveys and radar in hopes that the craft is on the surface. The Canadian Coast Guard also has a plane flying over the area. In addition, the USCG and Canadians are dropping and monitoring sonar buoys from P3 aircraft in hopes of picking up tapping or other sounds from the submersible.

The surface search is complicated by weather in the region. According to the USCG, it was foggy with limited visibility yesterday but improved today. Seas are considered normal at five to six feet with 15 mph winds. One of the members of the expedition had reported Sunday that they were expecting a break in the weather Monday to start their dive, which might be the only one for 2023 due to weather conditions.

OceanGate is leading the underway search because according to the Coast Guard they are most familiar with the site. The company is using a chartered former Canadian Coast Guard vessel the Polar Prince. They have been joined by the Deep Energy, a 636-foot pipe-laying vessel that was operating in the area which has ROV capabilities. The ROV was deployed and surveying as of midday, but the USCG noted that it has “limited capabilities.” 

The French Ministry of Oceans announced on Tuesday that they were deploying assets to aid in the search. The search and survey vessel Atalante has reportedly been dispatched. It is managed by the Ifremer research institute, which has previously dived on the Titanic and is also sending a team due to arrive on Wednesday to operate an additional ROV at the site. 

Media reports are now saying that the five people aboard the submersible include British businessman and explorer Hamish Harding, who had been posting on social media about the trip, along with businessman Shahzada Dawood and his teenage son Suleman Dawood. Other are believed to be French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet and the most recent reports are saying the final spot was occupied by the CEO and founder of OceanGate, Stockton Rush. In addition, there is a pilot for the submersible.

The search is gathering worldwide attention while raising many questions about the unregulated submersible industry. David Pogue, a CBS News correspondent, is reporting that OceanGate also briefly lost contact with the submersible for approximately five hours during a 2022 dive. OceanGate previously said the Titan is such new technology that it “falls outside of the existing industry paradigm.”

During the briefing on Tuesday, Capt. Jamie Frederick of the First Coast Guard District refused to speculate on what would be required to recover the submersible. He said all efforts are focused on finding the Titan at this point.