The search for a missing Titanic submersible has become a search and rescue mission that will take an indefinite amount of time, authorities said, as tributes poured in from around the world for the five people who died when the vessel imploded in the depths. of the North Atlantic. .
Thursday’s announcement that all on board perished when the submersible imploded near the site of the iconic shipwreck brought a tragic end to a five-day saga that included an urgent 24-hour search and worldwide vigil for the vessel known as Titan.
The investigation into what happened was already underway and would continue in the area around the Titanic where wreckage was found, said Rear Admiral John Mauger of the Coast Guard’s First District.
“I know there are also a lot of questions about how, why and when this happened. Those are questions that we will collect as much information on as we can now,” Mauger said, adding that it was a “complex case” that happened. in a remote part of the ocean and involved people from several different countries.
The first hint of a timeline came Thursday night when a senior US Navy official said that after the Titan was reported missing on Sunday, the Navy went back and analyzed its acoustic data. and found an “anomaly” that was consistent with an implosion or explosion in the general vicinity of where the ship was operating when communications were lost. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive acoustic detection system.
The dead were Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the company that owns and operates the submersible; two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
Composite photo of Titan passengers. From left to right: Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate; British billionaire Hamish Harding; Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman; and the French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
OceanGate, which has been charting the decay of the Titanic and its surrounding underwater ecosystem through annual voyages since 2021 that included paying tourists, issued a statement calling the five slain people “true explorers who shared a distinctive spirit.” of adventure and a deep passion to explore. and protect the world’s oceans.
Tributes to those killed and praise for the seekers who tried to save them poured in from around the world. The White House thanked the Coast Guard, along with Canadian, British and French partners who assisted in the search and rescue efforts.
“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives on Titan. They have been through a terrible ordeal in recent days, and we keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” he said in a statement. statement.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter that it appreciates “the multinational efforts over the past few days in the search for the vessel.” The Dawood family also thanked everyone involved in the search.
“Her tireless efforts have been a source of strength to us during this time,” the family said in a statement. “We are also indebted to our friends, family, colleagues and supporters around the world who supported us during our need.”
Harding’s family said in a statement: “He was unique and we adored him… What he accomplished in his life was truly remarkable and if we can take any small consolation from this tragedy, it is that we lost him doing what he did.” loved.”
The Titan launched at 6 a.m. Sunday and was reported late Sunday afternoon about 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Rescuers brought boats, planes and other equipment to the place of disappearance.
Authorities hoped underwater sounds detected Tuesday and Wednesday could help narrow their search, whose coverage area had expanded to thousands of miles, twice the size of Connecticut and in waters 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers). ) deep.
However, any remaining hope of finding the crew alive was dashed early Thursday, when the submersible’s 96-hour air supply was expected to run out and the Coast Guard announced a field had been found. of debris to about 1,600 feet (1,600 ft). 488 meters) of the Titanic.
“The debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber,” Mauger said.
The Coast Guard said Thursday that the sounds heard in the previous days were likely generated by something other than Titan.
“There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the noises and the location (of the debris) on the seabed,” Mauger said.
The Navy official who spoke of the “anomaly” he heard on Sunday said the Navy passed the information to the Coast Guard, which continued its search because the Navy did not consider the data to be definitive.
An old friend and colleague of Nargeolet’s told French media that when contact was lost on Sunday, he quickly feared the worst.
“Unfortunately, I immediately thought of an implosion,” retired diver and underwater filmographer Christian Petron told broadcaster France-Info on Friday. At the depths where the submersible was operating, the pressures are intense and relentless, equivalent to hundreds of kilograms for every square centimeter, he noted.
“Obviously the slightest problem with the hull and its implosion is immediate,” Petron said.
He opined that Nargeolet was aware of the risks, but would have been driven by a thirst for further exploration of the Titanic wreck and its fauna and flora.
Director James Cameron, who has made multiple dives to the Titanic wreck, told the BBC he knew an “extreme catastrophic event” had occurred as soon as he heard the submersible had lost navigation and communications at the same time.
“For me, there was no question,” Cameron said. “There was no search. When they finally got hold of an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) that could go to the depth, they found it within hours. Probably within minutes.”
He said the briefings about the 96-hour oxygen supply and the banging noises were a “protracted, nightmarish farce” that gave false hope to the families of crew members.
At least 46 people successfully traveled on the OceanGate submersible to the Titanic wreck site in 2021 and 2022, according to letters the company filed with a US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, which oversees matters related to the Titanic shipwreck. But both a former company employee and former passengers raised questions about the submersible’s safety.
David Lochridge, OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, argued in 2018 that the method the company devised to ensure hull strength, based on acoustic monitoring that could detect cracks and bursts as the hull was stressed under pressure, was unsuitable and could “subject passengers to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible.”
“This was problematic because this type of acoustic analysis would only show when a component is about to fail, often milliseconds before an implosion, and would not detect existing failures before stress was placed on the hull,” Lochridge’s lawyers wrote in a paper. release. claim for unfair dismissal.
OceanGate disagreed. Lochridge “is not an engineer and was not hired or asked to perform engineering services on Titan,” he said, noting that he was fired after refusing to accept assurances from the company’s lead engineer that the test and monitoring protocol Acoustic was, in fact, more suitable for fault detection than a method proposed by Lochridge.
One of the company’s first customers compared a dive he took at the site two years ago to a suicide mission.
“Imagine a metal tube a few meters long with a sheet of metal as a floor. You can’t stand up. You can’t kneel down. Everyone is sitting next to each other or on top of each other,” said Arthur Loibl, a retired businessman. . and adventurer from Germany. “You can’t be claustrophobic.”
Loibl said the dive was repeatedly delayed to fix a problem with the battery and balance weights, bringing the trip duration to 10 1/2 hours, much of it taking place in near darkness to save batteries. .
Nicolai Roterman, a deep-sea ecologist and professor of marine biology at the University of Portsmouth, England, said Titan’s disappearance highlights the dangers and unknowns of deep-sea tourism.
“Even the most reliable technology can fail and therefore accidents will occur. With the growth of deep-sea tourism, we should expect more incidents like this.”
Associated Press journalists Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Va.; Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire; Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Danica Kirka in London; Gene Johnson in Seattle; Munir Ahmed in Islamabad; and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.