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Crews ‘detect noises’ as search for missing Titanic submersible enters day four

The Titan submersible, operated by OceanGate Expeditions to explore the wreckage of the sunken Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland.
The Titan submersible, operated by OceanGate Expeditions to explore the wreckage of the sunken Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland.
Image: OceanGate Expeditions/Handout via REUTERS

Canadian aircraft detected underwater noises in the North Atlantic in the search for a tourist submersible that vanished while on a voyage to the wreck of the Titanic , the US coast guard said.

The discovery on Tuesday led search teams to relocate their underwater robotic search operations “in an attempt to explore the origin of the noises”, the coast guard said in tweets early on Wednesday.

The newly relocated searches by remotely operated vehicles came up empty-handed but will continue, the coast guard said.

It did not detail the nature or extent of the sounds that were detected, or how they were picked up.

CNN and Rolling Stone magazine, citing internal US government communications, independently reported late on Tuesday that banging sounds were detected by Canadian aircraft at 30-minute intervals in the search area.

Rolling Stone, the first to report the news, said the sounds were detected by sonar buoys deployed in the area “close to the distress position” and additional sonar picked up more banging four hours later.

CNN cited a US government memo as saying that additional sounds were heard about four hours after initial banging was detected, though the news channel said the second occurrence of noise was not described as banging.

“Additional acoustic feedback was heard and will assist in vectoring surface assets and indicating continued hope of survivors,” CNN quoted the updated government memo as saying.

It was not immediately clear if the news reports were based on the same source.

The Titan, operated by US-based OceanGate Expeditions, was built to stay underwater for 96 hours, according to its specifications, giving the five people aboard until Thursday morning before air runs out.

One pilot and four passengers were inside the miniature sub early on Sunday when it lost communication with a parent ship on the surface about an hour and 45 minutes into its two-hour dive.

The wreck of the Titanic, a British ocean liner that struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912, lies about 1,450km east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and 644km south of St John's, Newfoundland US and Canadian aircraft have searched more than 19,684 square kilometres of open sea, an area larger than the state of Connecticut, US coast guard captain Jamie Frederick told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.

A commercial vessel with a remote-controlled deep water submersible was also searching near the site, Frederick said.

Separately, a French research ship carrying its own deep-sea diving robot vessel was dispatched to the search area at the request of the US Navy and was expected to arrive on Wednesday night local time, the Ifremer research institute said.

Those aboard Titan for a tourist expedition that costs $250,000 (R4.6m) per person included British billionaire Hamish Harding, 58, and Pakistani-born businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, with his 19-year-old son Suleman, who are both British citizens.

French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, and Stockton Rush, founder and CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, were also reported to be on board. Authorities have not confirmed the identity of any passenger.

Rescuers face significant obstacles in finding the Titan and saving the people aboard, according to experts.

In the event of a mid-dive emergency, the pilot would likely have released weights to float back to the surface, according to Alistair Greig, a marine engineering professor at University College London. But without communication, locating a van-sized submersible in the vast Atlantic could prove challenging, he said.

The submersible is sealed with bolts from the outside, preventing the occupants from escaping without assistance even if it surfaces.

If the Titan is on the ocean floor, a rescue effort would be even more challenging due to the extreme conditions more than 3.2km beneath the surface. The Titanic lies 3,810m underwater, where no sunlight penetrates. Only specialised equipment can reach such depths without being crushed by the huge water pressure.

“I think if it's on the seabed, there are so few submarines that are capable of going that deep. Therefore I think it was going to be almost impossible to effect a sub-to-sub rescue,” said Tim Matlin, a Titanic expert.

US President Joe Biden was “watching events closely”, White House national security adviser John Kirby said on Tuesday.

OceanGate said it was “mobilising all options” and US coast guard Rear Admiral John Mauger told NBC News the company was helping to guide the search efforts.

The sinking of the Titanic, which killed more than 1,500 people, has been immortalised in books and films, including the 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic which renewed popular interest in the wreck.

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