Washington (AFP) – Expedition and rescue groups travel the North Atlantic in search of a missing small submersible that was intended to explore the area where the remains of the British ocean liner Titanic lie. It is a race against time, since, according to the authorities, its five crew members would have few hours of oxygen left.
Fears are growing for the five people on board, since the ship has oxygen autonomy for up to 96 hours.
This is what we know so far:
The 6.5-meter-long craft began its dive on Sunday but lost contact with the surface less than two hours later, according to authorities.
“For some time now we have been unable to establish communication with one of our submersible rovers currently visiting the Titanic wreck site,” the company that operates the ship, OceanGate Expeditions, told AFP in a statement Monday night.
The company uses a submersible called the Titan for its dives to the site of the historic shipwreck, with stalls that can cost $250,000 each, according to its website.
Who’s on board?
One of the passengers was identified as British businessman Hamish Harding, whose aviation company had posted on social media about his expedition to the area.
Harding, a 58-year-old aviator, space tourist and president of the Action Aviation association, posted on his Instagram Sunday that he was proud to join OceanGate’s Titanic mission.
Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and her son Suleman Dawood are also on the boat.
“For now, contact with the submersible has been lost and the information available is limited,” his family said in a statement.
Shahzada Dawood is vice president of Karachi-based conglomerate Engro, which has investments in energy, agriculture, petrochemicals and telecommunications.
How deep can you go down?
Titan is shaped like a narrow tube, with an entrance hatch at the front. It measures 6.7 meters in length and 2.8 meters in width. Its maximum speed is three knots, that is, 5.5 km per hour.
Equipped with four thrusters, the submersible can go down to 4,000 meters, according to OceanGate, which gives a tight margin compared to the 3,800 meters where the Titanic is located.
Stefan Williams, an expert in underwater robotics at the University of Sydney, told AFP that the pressure at these depths is “relentless.”
“For every 10 meters you go down into the sea, you increase the pressure by one atmosphere,” he explained.
That means that at the depth of the Titanic the pressure is 380 times higher than that of the Earth’s surface.
Where did the ship disappear?
Rescuers have been searching a remote area of the North Atlantic where the remains of the Titanic – sunk in 1912 – lie 650 kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and some 4,000 meters deep in the ocean.
What is the latest information on the rescue?
The United States Coast Guard reported that it assigned two planes to the tasks and Canadian authorities sent a plane and a ship for exploration.
Time is a critical factor, since the ship has a maximum of 96 hours of oxygen autonomy for the breathing of five people.
For his part, the captain of the US coast guard, Jamie Frederick, detailed this Tuesday at a press conference that the submersible “has about 40 hours of breathable air left.”
But without gathering any reports of sightings of the submersible or communication signals from the scouts, its rescue team called off search flights overnight.
What are the possible scenarios?
In the best of cases, according to the expert from the University of Sydney, Titan lost the ability to communicate or ran out of power.
If that is so, its emergency system automatically launches it towards the surface, which allows the location of the ship.
The second scenario is that the submersible sank to the bottom of the sea, intact.
Finding and rescuing the Titan in that case would be extremely difficult.
According to this expert, there are rescue vehicles that are capable of going down to 6,000 meters deep, but it takes time to move this equipment to the place of the event, and then to the bottom of the sea.
The worst scenario is a fire or some kind of mishap that affected the internal pressure of the ship. That represents “a catastrophic failure at that level of depth,” she said.
Why visit the Titanic?
The 46,000-ton liner—considered then the largest passenger ship in the world—struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York in April 1912 with 2,224 passengers and crew on board.
More than 1,500 people died, some of whom were magnates and aristocrats.
The disaster was popularized as an example of hubris, as the ship had been touted as an industrial age miracle and unsinkable.
Some also saw an episode of discrimination in the accident, because the vast majority of the passengers who died were in second or third class.
The shipwreck was located in 1985 by a joint expedition of the United States and France, which deepened the fascination for this catastrophe, fueled several films -the last great success is 1997 with the stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio- and also generated tourism lucrative submarine, but at the same time high risk.