By PATRICK WHITTLE and HOLLY RAMER (Associated Press)
A Canadian military surveillance aircraft detected underwater noises as a massive operation searched early Wednesday in a remote part of the North Atlantic for a submersible that vanished while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic.
A statement from the U.S. Coast Guard did not elaborate on what rescuers believed the noises could be, though it offered a glimmer of hope for those lost aboard the Titan. The vessel is estimated to have as little as a day’s worth of oxygen left if it is still functioning.
Three search vessels arrived on-scene Wednesday morning, including one that has side-scanning sonar capabilities, the Coast Guard tweeted.
The Coast Guard wrote on Twitter that a Canadian military surveillance aircraft had “detected underwater noises in the search area” and that an underwater robot sent to search that area has so far “yielded negative results.”
Still, authorities pushed on Wednesday to get salvage equipment to the scene in case the sub is found.
The Coast Guard statement about detecting sounds underwater came after Rolling Stone reported that search teams heard “banging sounds in the area every 30 minutes.”
The report was encouraging to some experts because submarine crews unable to communicate with the surface are taught to bang on their submersible’s hull to be detected by sonar.
“It sends a message that you’re probably using military techniques to find me and this is how I’m saying it,” said Frank Owen, a submarine search and rescue expert. “So, that’s really encouraging if that’s the case.”
Richard Garriott de Cayeux, the president of The Explorers Club, wrote an open letter to his club’s adventurers, saying he had “much greater confidence” about the search after speaking to officials in Congress, the U.S. military and the White House.
However, no official has publicly suggested they know the source of the underwater noises.
Meanwhile, questions remain about how teams could reach the lost submersible, which could be as deep as about 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) below the surface near the watery tomb of the historic ocean liner. Newly uncovered allegations also suggest there had been significant warnings made about vessel safety during its development.
Lost aboard the vessel are pilot Stockton Rush, the CEO of the company leading the expedition. His passengers are a British adventurer, two members of a Pakistani business family and a Titanic expert.
Three transport planes from the U.S. military have been used to move commercial submersible and support equipment from Buffalo, New York, to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to aid in the search, a spokesperson for U.S. Air Mobility Command said.
The Canadian military said it provided a patrol aircraft and two surface ships, including one that specializes in dive medicine. It also dropped sonar buoys to listen for any sounds from the Titan.
Authorities reported the 22-foot carbon-fiber vessel overdue Sunday night, setting off the search in waters about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John’s.
The submersible had a four-day oxygen supply when it put to sea around 6 a.m. Sunday, according to David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate Expeditions, which oversaw the mission.
Owen said the estimated 96-hour oxygen supply is a useful “target” for searchers, but is only based on a “nominal amount of consumption the average human might consume in doing certain things.” Owen said the diver on board the Titan would likely be advising passengers to “do anything to reduce your metabolic levels so that you can actually extend this 96 hours.”
Chris Brown, a British adventurer who paid a deposit to go on the Titan voyage but later withdrew because of what he called safety concerns, said word that the searchers have heard sounds is both good news and bad news.
“If the sounds are coming from below the water indicator then that indicates that they may be alive in the water, but now we’ve got time pressures in getting them up to the surface,” Brown told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday.
The submersible had seven backup systems to return to the surface, including sandbags and lead pipes that drop off and an inflatable balloon.
Aaron Newman, who has been a passenger on the Titan, told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that if the submersible is below a couple hundred meters and without power, the passengers are in complete darkness and it’s cold.
“It was cold when we were at the bottom,” he said. “You had layered up. You had wool hats on and were doing everything to stay warm at the bottom.”
Meanwhile, documents show that OceanGate had been warned there might be catastrophic safety problems posed by the way the experimental vessel was developed.
David Lochridge, OceanGate’s director of marine operations, said in a 2018 lawsuit that the company’s testing and certification was insufficient and would “subject passengers to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible.”
The company insisted that Lochridge was “not an engineer and was not hired or asked to perform engineering services on the Titan.” The firm also says the vessel under development was a prototype, not the now-missing Titan.
The Marine Technology Society, which describes itself as “a professional group of ocean engineers, technologists, policy-makers, and educators,” also expressed concern that year in a letter to Rush, OceanGate’s chief executive. The society said it was critical that the company submit its prototype to tests overseen by an expert third party before launching in order to safeguard passengers. The New York Times first reported about those documents.
The search for the missing vessel has drawn international attention. In Dubai, where the missing British adventurer Hamish Harding lives, Crown Prince Hamadan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum wrote: “Dubai and its people pray for their safety and hopeful return home.”
Others aboard include Pakistani nationals Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman, whose eponymous firm invests across the country. In Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, employees at his firms said they prayed for the two’s safe return, as did government officials. French explorer and Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet also was on the vessel.
Describing Harding and Nargeloet as “tourists” is a misnomer, said Newman, the former Titan passenger.
“These are people who lived on the edge and loved what they were doing. If anything’s going on, these are people that are calm and thinking this through and doing what they can to stay alive,” Newman said, adding that he felt safe and in the hands of professionals on his descent. “It’s a good set of people.”
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Source: Read Full Article