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A submersible on a diving expedition to the wreck of the RMS Titanic suffered a “catastrophic explosion”, the US Coast Guard said, killing all five passengers on board.
On Thursday morning, an international search effort found wreckage near the Titanic’s site on the ocean floor. Authorities later confirmed that the wreckage contained the remains of a submersible, known as the Titan.
“The bottom of the ocean is an incredibly unforgiving environment and the debris is consistent with a catastrophic explosion,” US Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger said at a press briefing.
The discovery of Titan’s remains ends a frantic four-day search for the craft after it lost contact with its surface ship, the Polar Prince, on Sunday morning.
The US Navy was alerted to a possible explosion when the Titan lost contact on Sunday near where it was operating, a senior naval official said. The Navy shared the information with a search team led by the US Coast Guard, but it was not deemed conclusive, so the search continued.
“This information was taken into consideration along with the compilation of additional acoustic data provided by other partners and the decision was taken to continue our mission as search and rescue and make all efforts to save lives on board,” the official said. The investigation was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The craft’s operator, OceanGate, confirmed that five people on board – its chief executive Stockton Rush, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Daoud and his son Suleiman Daoud, British businessman Hamish Harding and Paul-Henri Nargiolet, a French researcher – had died.
“We believe now[they]. . . have been sadly lost,” the company said in a statement. “These men were true explorers who shared a distinct sense of adventure and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans.”
A remotely operated vehicle launched from the ship Horizon Arctic as part of a search operation was located Thursday morning on the nose cone of the Titan, which lies about 1,600 feet from the Titanic’s bow.
The ROV later found a large debris field containing the forward end of the ship’s pressure hull. The rear end of the hull was later found in another small debris field.
Search and rescue teams were in a race against time to locate the Titan within 96 hours of its launch – the period of time the crew would have still had oxygen if the ship had remained intact.
There was a glimmer of hope for the search effort on Wednesday after underwater sounds were detected by a patrol plane, prompting rescuers to refocus their search efforts. But the Coast Guard said Thursday that there appeared to be no connection between the location of the wreckage and the sounds.
Mauger said the crash likely occurred before rescue efforts were launched because sonar monitoring of the area did not reveal any signs of an explosion during the search.
“We know that we’ve been working on this search for the last 72 hours and even then we’ve had sonar buoys in the water almost continuously and no catastrophic events while those sonar buoys were in the water,” Mauger said Thursday. .
According to Carl Hartsfield of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who helped with the search, the location of the wreckage suggests that there was no collision with the wreckage of the liner.
Search operations will continue in the coming days to map the debris on the seabed using ROVs to determine the course of events. An investigation into the accident is also expected to be announced.
“This was an incredibly complex case and we are still working to develop the details of the timeline associated with this accident and response,” Mauger said.
“We will continue to investigate the debris field site and I know there are a lot of questions about how and when this happened,” he added. “Those are questions that we will gather as much information as we can now while governments are meeting and discussing what this type of casualty inquiry might look like.”