'Literally a needle in a haystack situation': Marine expert's warning on search for Titanic Tourist sub

22 June 2023, 09:05 | Updated: 22 June 2023, 09:24

Titanic tourist submersible disappeared on an expedition to explore the famed shipwreck
Titanic tourist submersible disappeared on an expedition to explore the famed shipwreck. Picture: Getty
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The search effort to find the missing Oceangate Titan submersible is like hunting for "a mine in a minefield."

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The submersible, operated by OceanGate Expeditions, has been missing since Sunday, with five individuals on board including British billionaire Hamish Harding, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, a French navy veteran, and a businessman accompanied by his son.

The boat was descending to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles off the coast of North America, in a bid to visit the wreckage of the Titanic.

Rescuers have been hunting for the 6.7 metre-long vessel since Sunday when the ship's handlers lost contact with it. Hope has been sparked by sounds of banging that officials think could be the passengers trying to send a message, but others have warned that the search is extremely difficult.

Speaking during a briefing for journalists, Dr Rob Larter, a Marine Geophysicist with the British Antarctic Survey warned the situation in the search area was stark.

Read more: Titanic sub's last hours: rescuers have until 12.08pm today to find missing Titan before oxygen runs out

Explaining he had been involved in previous exploration at great depth he said the vehicles searching for the missing Titan submersible could only be a few metres away and not see it due to how dark and murky it would be.

"It's literally a needle in a haystack situation," he said before pointing out the area around the Titanic wreck is littered with debris.

Speaking to LBC an expert in geosciences raised hope the missing submariners can be found in time, explaining a scenario that would make it much easier for rescuers to locate the Titan.

Dr Jamie Pringle, Reader in Forensic Geosciences at Keele University, said "I've heard someone say this is like trying to find a mine in a minefield.

"That is quite appropriate because you'll have big towers from the ship so there will be other big debris that is bigger than that if the Titan is on the bottom in the worst-case scenario.

"However, if it is floating around in the ocean current, that is a little bit easier, while the banging noises that have been heard are certainly positive."

Read more: Friend of Hamish Harding paid £110,000 to join Titanic submarine expedition but pulled out over ‘safety concerns’

Read more: Titanic sub's last sighting: Footage shows tourists heading to wreck as desperate rescuers have just hours to save them

Ex-Royal Navy Boat Commander Tom Sharpe speaks on missing sub

The five people on the missing Titan submersible have until 12.08pm UK time before their oxygen runs out, the Coastguard has said, as officials insisted they were still carrying out a search and rescue mission.

In the race against time to locate the Titan submersible, advanced underwater search equipment has already been deployed to scour the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, two submersibles capable of descending 20,000 feet below the surface are spearheading the underwater search, with further equipment en route.

Contact with the sub - which has five people on board - was lost on Sunday as it made a descent to the Titanic wreck
Contact with the sub - which has five people on board - was lost on Sunday as it made a descent to the Titanic wreck. Picture: OceanGate Explorations

Coast Guard officials have confirmed the deployment of specialised ships equipped with tools that could facilitate the retrieval of the sub from the seabed if located.

Read more: Has the Titanic sub been found? Timeline of events and latest updates

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

Titanic tourist submersible vanished on Sunday
Titanic tourist submersible vanished on Sunday. Picture: Getty

Coast Guard searching for Titan ‘where noises have been heard'

The boat had 96 hours of oxygen supply to start with, and its passengers are expected to run out at 7.08am local time (12.08pm UK time), a spokesperson for the US coastguard said.

"We have to remain optimistic and hopeful when we are in a search and rescue case," Coastguard captain Jamie Frederick said.

"If we continue to search, potentially we could be at that point... And that's a discussion we will have with the families long before I am going to discuss here publicly."

He added: "We always have hope - that's why we're doing what we do."