The US Coast Guard has admitted that it doesn’t know if search teams will be able to rescue the Titanic sub from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean even if they do manage to find it within the 96-hour deadline – as it’s estimated that the five missing passengers have just 40 hours of oxygen supply left inside the vessel.
US Coast Guard Captain Jamie Frederick confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that there is still no sign of OceanGate Expedition’s Titan submersible, which has now been missing for more than two days.
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Even if the vessel is located under the surface of the ocean, concerns are mounting that the huge multi-agency, international search and rescue operation will be helpless to actually retrieve it and save the five men inside.
When asked if a rescue will be possible if found, Cpt Frederick admitted that he couldn’t give “the answer” to that.
“I don’t know the answer to that question but we will do everything in our power to affect the rescue,” he said.
When pressed about any plans to rescue the sub if it is successfully located, Cpt Frederick continued to skirt around the question – insisting that they were focused first on finding the vessel.
“All efforts are on finding the sub… we have the nation’s best experts… if we get to that point,” he said, later adding that if the sub is located, the team will decide the “best course of action to recover” it.
The US Coast Guard official gave the damning estimate that those on board the 21-foot submersible now have just 40 hours of oxygen supply left inside the sub.
While he hammered home that it is “an estimate”, Cpt Frederick said that “we’re approximately 40 to 41 hours left”.
Before OceanGate Expeditions’ Titan sub set off on its doomed expedition on Sunday morning, it was equipped with enough oxygen to last the five men on board for four days – 96 hours – in the event of an emergency situation.
The Titan submersible left its mother ship Polar Prince at around 8am ET (1pm GMT) on Sunday morning to delve 13,000 feet below the surface to the Titanic wreckage, according to Miawpukek Maritime Horizon Services, which co-owns the Polar Prince.
Just one hour and 45 minutes later – at 10.47am ET – the sub made its last contact with the mother ship.
When the sub failed to resurface at its scheduled time of 5.10pm ET, OceanGate contacted US authorities to launch a rescue operation.
A major search and rescue operation was launched, headed up by the US Coast Guard in Boston and involving multiple agencies, sonar technology and military-style aircrafts.
Two days into the search, there is still no signs of the vessel.
Based on the oxygen supply on board, the rescue teams have until around 5.30am ET (10.30am GMT) on Thursday morning to find the sub and save its passengers before all chances of survival come to an end.
But, based on the comments by the US Coast Guard – and the equipment and crafts known to be available – finding it is only one part of the problem.
Cpt Frederick said that the search is “complex” and “challenging” due to the remote location 900 miles from Cape Cod, the vast search area the “size of Connecticut” and the lack of knowledge as to whether the submersible is on the surface of the ocean or deep underwater.
A unified team including the US Coast Guard, US Navy, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Coast Guard and OceanGate Expeditions are all working together to try to find the missing vessel.
Three C-130 aircarafts have been searching by air for signs of the submersible and an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) is diving into the water at the vessel’s last known position above the Titanic wreckage.
Radar has also been used to search beneath the surface and several boats are searching by water, with additional Canadian coast guard vessels on route.
In the past two days, the search and rescue operation has canvassed a 76 square mile area larger than the state of Connecticut, said the US Coast Guard.
Cpt Frederick dismissed a report that the UK had offered its assistance but had been turned down, saying he didn’t know “about that”.
“Our crew are working around the clock to ensure we are doing everything possible to locate the Titan and five crew members,” he said.
Despite the growing fears, the desperate family and friends of the five passengers on board are holding onto hope that they will be found alive – and in time.
On board the sub is prominent billionaire explorer Hamish Harding, who has previously travelled on the Challenger Deep to the bottom of the ocean and on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin into space.
Mr Harding, a father-of-two, had taken to Facebook on Saturday speaking of his excitement that he was joining OceanGate Expeditions for its Titanic mission.
“I am proud to finally announce that I joined OceanGate Expeditions for their RMS TITANIC Mission as a mission specialist on the sub going down to the Titanic. Due to the worst winter in Newfoundland in 40 years, this mission is likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023,” Mr Harding wrote, alongside an image of him signing a card reading Titanic Mission V.
“A weather window has just opened up and we are going to attempt a dive tomorrow. We started steaming from St Johns, Newfoundland, Canada yesterday and are planning to start dive operations around 4am tomorrow morning. Until then we have a lot of preparations and briefings to do.
“The team on the sub has a couple of legendary explorers, some of which have done over 30 dives to the RMS Titanic since the 1980s including PH Nargeolet. More expedition updates to follow IF the weather holds!”
Mr Harding’s stepson Brian Szasz later confirmed on Monday that his stepfather was on board the vessel when it went missing.
French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet – described by OceanGate as the “Titanic’s greatest explorer” who has done 35 dives in the submersible – was also confirmed to be on board the vessel by a friend and fellow explorer.
They were joined by Shahzada Dawood, a 48-year-old businessman and one of the richest people in Pakistan, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19.
The fifth person is believed to be OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush.
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