The US Navy detected an acoustic signature consistent with an implosion on Sunday in the general area where the Titanic-bound submersible was diving when it lost communication with its mother ship, a senior Navy official told CNN Thursday.
The Navy then immediately relayed that information to the on-scene commanders leading the search effort, and it was used to narrow down the area of the search, the official said.
But the sound of the implosion was determined to be “not definitive,” the official said, and the multinational efforts to find the submersible continued as a search and rescue effort. “Any chance of saving a life is worth continuing the mission,” the official said. The Wall Street Journal was first to report about the acoustic signature picked up by the Navy.
That insight comes the same day the US Coast Guard announced the submersiblesuffered a “catastrophic implosion,” killing all five people on board.
The tail cone and other debris from the missing submersible were found by a remotely operated vehicle about 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic, which rests about 13,000 feet deep in the North Atlantic Ocean.
“This is an incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the sea floor and the debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel,” US Coast Guard Rear Adm. John Mauger, the First Coast Guard District commander, told reporters in a Thursday news conference.
Five different major pieces of debris from the submersible, known as the “Titan,” were found in the area, and each end of the pressure hull was found in a different place, according to Paul Hankins, US Navy Director of Salvage Operations and Ocean Engineering.
The families were immediately notified, Mauger said.
Minutes before the news conference, OceanGate Expeditions, the company that operated the deep-sea submersible, issued a statement grieving the five men on board.
“We now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, have sadly been lost,” OceanGate said in a statement.
“These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans. Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew.”
The news ends a saga that began Sunday when the Titan began its descent to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. The expedition was billed as “a chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary” and cost each participant $250,000, an archived version of OceanGate’s website shows.
However, the cramped vessel lost contact with its mother ship about 1 hour and 45 minutes into its dive and did not surface as expected, prompting an extensive search and rescue operation in a remote area several hundred miles southeast of Newfoundland.
The expedition reflects the ongoing fascination with the Titanic more than a century after it hit an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 people. The journey was also part of the growing business of wealthy adventuretourism, along with the space flights of Blue Origin or the rise of guided tours to Mount Everest.
The focus on the vessel renewed criticisms of OceanGate’s approach to safety from employees and other industry leaders. The 23,000-pound deep-sea vessel was made of an experimental combination of carbon fiber and titanium and relied on decidedly low-tech parts, such as a video game controller.
Officials will now be tasked with answering more questions, including piecing together what exactly happened and how to best prevent it from happening again.
A dayslong, massive search
The international search and rescue efforts kicked into high gear in the past few days.
The last communication between the vessel and its mother ship, the Polar Prince, came in at 11:47 a.m. Sunday. With no GPS underwater, the submersible was only guided by text messages from the surface ship.
A remotely operated vehicle was looking for the submersible on the sea floor, the US Coast Guard’s Northeast District tweeted Thursday morning. Aircraft also scanned the search zone and an ROV from a French vessel was also deployed, and equipment from Magellan, the team that mapped the Titanic wreckage site last year, was headed to the site to assist.
Earlier this week, there were moments that offered hope to the family and friends of the missing vessel.
Banging noises were detected underwater by sonar Tuesday and Wednesday in the massive search area, though their origin was not clear. The sounds on Tuesday first came every 30 minutes and were heard again four hours later, according to an internal US government memo update on the search.
When asked about those noises Thursday, Mauger said, “There doesn’t appear to be any connection between the noises (and) the location on the seafloor.”
The US Navy also helped analyze the audio signatures of banging and other acoustic data that were heard throughout the search efforts, the Navy official told CNN. Those were likely some form of natural life or sounds given off by other ships and vessels that were part of the search effort, the official said.
The audio of the implosion picked up by the US Navy came from a network of sensors as part of an underwater Navy acoustic listening system, the official said.
OceanGate faces questions on safety of vessel
The implosion of the Titan and deaths of those on board has put its operator’s safety procedures under the microscope.
Rush, the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, told a Mexican travel blogger in 2021 he wanted to be known as an innovator who broke the rules.
“I think it was (US Army) Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur who said, ‘You’re remembered for the rules you break,’” Rush told Alan Estrada, who documented his trip to the Titanic, including an aborted attempt in July 2021 before a successful visit in 2022.
“I’ve broken some rules to make this,” Rush added.
At least two former OceanGate employees years ago expressed safety concerns about the vessel’s hull, including the thickness of the material used and testing procedures, CNN has learned.
OceanGate Expeditions strayed from industry norms by declining a voluntary, rigorous safety review of the vessel, according to an industry leader. If the company had pursued a certification review “some of this may have been avoided,” Will Kohnen of the Marine Technology Society told CNN on Wednesday.
The company also faced a series of mechanical problems and inclement weather conditions that forced the cancellation or delays of trips in recent years, according to court records. The scuttled excursions led to a pair of lawsuits in which some high-paying customers sought to recoup the cost of trips they said they didn’t take. The complaints alleged that the company overstated its ability to reach the Titanic wreckage.
OceanGate did not respond to the claims in court and could not be reached for comment.
Some expeditions were delayed after OceanGate was forced to rebuild the Titan’s hull because it showed “cyclic fatigue” and wouldn’t be able to travel deep enough to reach the Titanic’s wreckage, according to a 2020 article by GeekWire, which interviewed the company’s CEO.
CEO of company and wealthy adventurers among the victims
The Titan generally carried five people: a pilot, in this case Rush; three paying passengers, in this case Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood and Suleman Dawood; and a content expert knowledgeable of the Titanic, in this instance Paul-Henri Nargeolet, according to OceanGate’s archived website.
Harding, a British businessman and the chairman of aircraft brokerage Action Aviation, had a lengthy list of extreme expeditions under his belt. In 2019, he was part of a flight crew that broke the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe via both poles, and in 2020, he became one of the first people to dive to Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean, widely believed to be the deepest point in the world’s oceans.
Last year, he paid an undisclosed sum of money for one of the seats on Blue Origin’s space flight.
The Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, were part of a prominent Pakistani business family. Dawood Hercules Corporation is among the largest corporations in the country, with a portfolio spanning energy, petrochemicals, fertilizers, IT, food and agriculture.
Nargeolet, an acclaimed French diver, had decades of experience exploring the Titanic. He served as the director of underwater research at RMS Titanic Inc., the company that has exclusive rights to salvage artifacts from the ship.
According to his biography on the company’s website, Nargeolet completed 35 dives to the Titanic wreck and supervised the recovery of 5,000 artifacts. He spent 22 years in the French Navy, where he rose to the rank of a commander, the website says.