24 hours to save Titanic tourists: Rescuers hear banging sounds as they scramble to find missing submarine

21 June 2023, 11:39 | Updated: 21 June 2023, 15:17

Read the latest: Search for missing Titanic sub will continue 'as long as there’s an opportunity for survival' says US Coast Guard chief

Rescuers heard banging while looking for the Titan
Rescuers heard banging while looking for the Titan. Picture: OceanGate/Alamy

By Will Taylor

Rescuers fear they have less than a day to save the five tourists onboard the missing Titanic submarine.

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The Titan is now believed to have under 24 hours of breathable air left.

Jannicke Mikkelsen, a close friend of Hamish Harding, the British billionaire onboard, was told by rescuers they believed "maximum life support is Thursday 22 June at 11.30am", British time.

Rescuers have been encouraged after hearing the sound of banging but despite dropping sonobuoys in the water and bringing in planes and ships to search the area - about 400 miles from Newfoundland in the Atlantic - they have not tracked it down.

Frank Owen, a retired submarine commander in the Royal Australian Navy and former director of the country's Submarine Escape and Rescue Project, said the banging resembled naval protocol for giving a location of a stricken underwater vessel to rescuers.

Read more: Titanic tourists' best hope: Only rescue ship capable of winching sub to safety joins desperate hunt for Titan

The banging, which came at 30-minute intervals, was picked up on sonar by a Canadian aircraft, leaked US government messages show.

"My confidence level has been increased by an order of magnitude since these reports have come in of banging," Mr Owen told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

"Particularly because they've been using a naval protocol that's used by submarine survivors of a disabled submarine around the world, in that on the hour and the half hour for three minutes they bang the hull and make as much noise as they can.

Titanic sub search noises 'encouraging'

"And the searching forces go quiet for a period, because normally the searching forces will be transmitting sonar, and sending charges down.

"Not quite the case here. But it smacks of advice coming from the French former naval officer on board, Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a former diver, and he would therefore be very familiar with the procedures.

"So the fact that they're doing this smacks of somebody who understands what the searching forces might be thinking about."

The cramped Titan sub went missing with five people onboard while travelling to the wreckage of the Titanic, which is about 12,000ft underwater.

Read more: King Charles asks to be kept 'fully up to date' over missing Titanic sub with key charity aide stuck on board

The banging was revealed from US Department of Homeland Security emails.

"RCC Halifax launched a P8, Poseidon, which has underwater detection capabilities from the air," they read.

"The PH deployed sonobuoys, which reported a contact in a position close to the distress position.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush (L) is among the five people on board the stricken submarine
OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush (L) is among the five people on board the stricken submarine. Picture: Alamy

"The P8 heard banging sounds in the area every 30 minutes. Four hours later additional sonar was deployed and banging was still heard."

But the US Coast Guard said after an "attempt to explore the origin of the noises... searches have yielded negative results but continue".

Read more: Titan sub hunt: conditions inside cramped deep sea ship, who's on board and what other dangers passengers face

Five passengers are onboard - UK billionaire Hamish Harding, two Pakistanis - Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman - Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, as well as 73-year-old French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet.

Describing the conditions, Mr Owen said they would be "uncomfortable", especially if the vessel is near the surface.

"They'll be rolling around, bobbing around like a cork. It's quite likely some of them have been sea sick," he said.

Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman are on the submarine
Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman are on the submarine. Picture: World Economic Forum

"So the atmosphere will be starting to become quite foul. It'd be cool, it might even be quite cold, if they're deep it'll be very cold."

The massive search and rescue operation, which is being led by the US Coast Guard, has involved military aircraft 900 miles east of Cape Cod.

Captain Jamie Frederick, of the US First Coast Guard District, speaking at a press conference in Boston, said that the search is "very complex" as he issued his thoughts and prayers for the crew and their families as the search continues.

He said "we will do everything in our power to effect a rescue" but stressed that they cannot yet make a plan as they must locate the sub first.

"We are out there, we are searching," he added.

"If the sub is located, the experts will look at the best course of action for recovering the sub.

British billionaire Hamish Harding is on board
British billionaire Hamish Harding is on board. Picture: Alamy

"It's 900 miles east of Cape Cod and 400 miles south of St John's. Logistically speaking it's hard to bring assets to bear, it takes time and coordination and we're dealing with a surface search and subsurface search and frankly that makes it an incredibly complex operation."

He also said they have searched 7,600 sq miles so far, an area larger than the size of Connecticut, but added "these search efforts have not yielded any results".

Remotely operated vehicles (ROV) have been deployed to dive to the sub's last known location.

The vessel's air tanks were carrying around 96 hours' worth at the start of the dive, meaning the rescuers have a deadline of midday on Thursday to recover it.

The ROVs have been deployed to "the last known position of the Titan and the approximate position of the Titanic wreck".

Several private research vessels are also preparing to join the search.

However there are growing fears if the vessel is stricken in the depths, it will be impossible to ever recover it.

The final picture of the missing sub seen above water before the mission was launched
The final picture of the missing sub seen above water before the mission was launched. Picture: Twitter

Shipwreck hunter David Mearns told LBC's Andrew Marr about the environment's difficulties: "Any part of the deep ocean is a hostile environment, mainly due to the pressure, it’s unforgivable and the fact that you’re surrounded by water at all times.

"It is the most extreme hostile environment in the world and that’s before you start adding in the complexities of surface weather – and the North Atlantic is an extreme environment, there are very few times in the year when you can operate it."

Mr Dawood is a UK-based Pakistani businessman and supporter of King Charles through his work with the Prince's Trust.

The King is being kept updated on the search. "His Majesty takes a keen personal interest in the people that help to keep his Trust thriving. He will be devastated to know that Shahzada is missing but will be keeping an eye on developments," a source said.

Mr Dawood's family said in a statement: "Our son Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman, had embarked on a journey to visit the remnants of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean. Contact has been lost with their submersible craft and there is limited information available.

Mearns: the sub is an 'unconventional design' and investigation needed into dives

"We are very grateful for the concern being shown by our colleagues and friends and would like to request everyone to pray for their safety while granting the family privacy at this time.

"The family is well looked after and are praying to Allah for the safe return of their family members."

The father and son were joined by British billionaire explorer Hamish Harding and two others on the tiny vessel that set off on Sunday to see the wreck of the Titanic.

Mr Harding holds three Guinness World Records, including the longest duration at full ocean depth by a crewed vessel when in March 2021 he and ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dived to the lowest depth of the Mariana Trench. In June 2022, he went into space on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.

His cousin, Kathleen Cosnett, told The Daily Telegraph she saw Mr Harding as "daring" and "inquisitive", and that she was "devastated" to learn he was missing.

On social media at the weekend, he said he was "proud to finally announce" he would be aboard the mission to the wreck of the Titanic, the luxury ocean liner which hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people.

OceanGate Expeditions, which charges £195,000 for eight-day trips that take tourists down to the Titanic, said its focus was on those aboard the vessel and their families.

"We are deeply thankful for the extensive assistance we have received from several government agencies and deep sea companies in our efforts to re-establish contact with the submersible," the company said in a statement.

"We are working toward the safe return of the crew members."

Read more: Dive expert friend of missing Brits on Titanic sub says vessel design is 'unconventional' and calls for 'rethink'

Read more: Forty hours of 'breathable' air left on missing Titanic sub as underwater drones deployed in search

A friend of Mr Harding revealed on Wednesday that he had pulled out of the Titanic sub tour over safety fears.

Chris Brown, 61, changed his mind after he found the sub's controls were "based on computer game-style controllers". He was also concerned over technical issues and delays.

"I found out they used old scaffolding poles for the sub’s ballast — and its controls were based on computer game-style controllers," Mr Brown told the Sun.

"If you're trying to build your own submarine you could probably use old scaffold poles. But this was a commercial craft.

"Eventually I emailed them and said, 'I'm no longer able to go on this thing'. I asked for a refund after being less than convinced."

Mr Mearns spoke about the vessel and his connection to two of the people on board on LBC.

"[The sub] is no doubt an unconventional design and build, including the launching systems. It'S not like anything else that has preceded it," Mr Mearns said.

"Whatever happens, and hopefully all five men come home safely, I think there’s going to be an investigation and a rethink about this type of activity."

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