Underwater noises detected by Canadian aircraft offer hope in multi-day search.
It’s been more than 72 hours since contact was lost with OceanGate’s Titan submersible during its dive to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean to see the wreck site of the Titanic.
There was hope Wednesday that it could be located, after a Canadian military aircraft with underwater sonar capabilities picked up underwater sounds, described as banging, in the search area, though no other signs of the Titan were detected.
There are many questions about how the search is unfolding and the challenges faced in trying to find the Titan before its oxygen supply runs out. CBC News can provide some of the answers.
Where is the Titan?
The Titan was about one hour and 45 minutes into its dive off the coast of Newfoundland when contact was lost around 8 a.m. local time on Sunday.
It takes about two and a half hours to reach the Titanic wreckage at a depth of 3,800 metres, said Mike Reiss, a television writer and producer who travelled on the Titan last year.
But it’s not necessarily a direct voyage to the wreck, he said.
“It’s just a giant tube that they drop in the water and it sinks all the way down,” he told CBC News Wednesday morning, explaining that on his trip the Titan drifted as it descended due to underwater currents.
He said the Titan was about 450 metres from the wreck when it finally reached that depth but they had to spend “about two and a half hours of our three hours down there just kinda groping in the dark trying to find the Titanic.”
Could it already be on the surface?
The Titan has “seven different return-to–the surface backup systems” that allow it to float back up to the surface, according to David Pogue, a CBS News correspondent who also travelled on the Titan last year, so there is a chance the submersible is bobbing somewhere on the remote Atlantic Ocean.
He said those include sandbags and lead pipes that can drop off, thrusters and an air balloon.
But he said there is also a “time release” system that sends the submersible back to the surface after a certain number of hours “even if everybody on board is unconscious.”
Air crews have searched an area spanning about 26,000 square kilometres so far, looking for a white submersible that is 6.7 metres long and 2.8 metres wide.
If the Titan is on the surface, the crew and passengers would not be able to escape the capsule because it is bolted shut from the outside, Pogue explained, meaning the oxygen supply remains limited, just as it would in the depths of the ocean.
Journalist who went on Titanic expedition describes how crew could have survived
CBS News correspondent David Pogue participated in a Titanic expedition in 2022. He says mechanical issues with the Titan submersible are common, but that it has multiple redundant systems for returning to the surface.
How much oxygen may be left on board?
A U.S. Coast Guard official told BBC News Wednesday there is likely less than 20 hours left in the Titan’s estimated 96-hour oxygen supply, which includes oxygen tanks and equipment known as carbon dioxide scrubbers to absorb the CO2 exhaled by the passengers inside the confined space.
David Marquet, a former U.S. navy submarine commander, told CBC News the Titan’s passengers would need to remain calm and control their breathing to stretch that oxygen supply as long as possible.
Why can’t GPS find it?
Unlike sound that can be picked up on sonar equipment, Global positioning systems (GPS) technology relies on radio waves, which don’t travel well through water in general, let alone at such great depths.
The Titan, before it disappeared, communicated with its mothership, the Polar Prince, via text-like messages and pings from an acoustic beacon.
Can banging sounds help locate it?
Search vessels with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were repositioned after the Canadian P-3 aircraft deployed what are known as sonobuoys (sonar buoys) that picked up the underwater sounds.
While sonar equipment can pick up sounds, it can be tricky to determine the source of noise, said Rear Adm. John Mauger of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“You have to remember it’s the wreck site of the Titanic, so there is a lot of metal and different objects around the site,” he told CBS Mornings on Wednesday.
Rolling Stone reported Wednesday that internal U.S. Department of Homeland Security emails indicated the banging detected by the Canadian P-3 surveillance aircraft occurred in half-hour intervals.
“The P-3 heard banging sounds in the area every 30 minutes. Four hours later additional sonar was deployed and banging was still heard.”
Experts analyzing every noise in search for Titan sub
Carl Hartsfield, an expert with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says noise in the ocean is very complex and requires careful evaluation. Experts are listening to every sound — including the ones that have been described as ‘banging’ noises — as they search for the missing submersible.
Why wasn’t it tethered to its mothership?
Some manned submersibles are tethered to a larger vessel or platform on the ocean surface, but the Titan was not.
In order for a vehicle to reach the Titanic wreck and manoeuvre around, you would need 5,000 or 6,000 metres of cable for a vehicle to reach that depth and manoeuvre around, explained British oceanographer Simon Boxall.
You also need the equipment to accommodate and deploy such a long and heavy cable, he said.
He explained research vessels, for example, that work with deepwater remotely operated vehicles are actually built around a large winch.
The Titan was transported nearly 700 kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland by the Canadian research vessel Polar Prince, a former Coast Guard Arctic icebreaker that is now privately owned.
Images of the vessel do not appear to show such equipment on board.
The technology aiding the search for the Titan
Various kinds of technology would be deployed both by the submersible and the search-and-rescue ships involved in the operation to locate the missing Titan, says Doug Elsey, executive director of the Canadian Association of Diving Contractors.
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