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Three reasons the missing Titanic submersible may never be found

A visit on board the Titan submersible

At 9:13am BST on Monday, a small submersible used to take tourists down to the Titanic was declared missing.

The craft – named Titan – is understood to have five people on board, including 58-year-old British explorer Hamish Harding and operator OceanGate Expedition CEO Stockton Rush.

The wreckage of the Titanic lies some 12,500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, 400 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada.

The vessel is thought to have 96 hours of emergency oxygen on board, which would run out on Thursday.

An extensive search operation is underway, involving the US and Canadian coastguards as well as private vessels, but the chances of success are slim – looks at why.

1. None of the rescue vessels can go as deep as the missing sub

The Titan submersible can reach depths of around 13,000 feet. The Titanic lies in a trench at around 12,500 feet deep – just within its operating range. One dive, including ascent and descent, takes around eight hours.

Few other crafts are capable of replicating such a plunge. Submarine expert Prof Alistair Greig from University College London told the BBC: “While the submersible might still be intact, if it is deeper than more than 200 metres (656 feet) there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers.

“The vehicles designed for navy submarine rescue certainly can’t get down to anywhere near the depth of the Titanic.”

Capt Sean P. Tortora, former Captain of a Navy salvage and rescue ship told The Mirror that “any rescue at the depth would be highly unlikely.”

Even if it can be located, the operation to reach it would be 11,000 feet deeper than the deepest undersea rescue conducted so far – when British engineers Roger Mallinson and Roger Chapman were trapped at a depth of 1,575 feet off the southwest coast of Ireland in 1973.

2. It is a notoriously difficult area to search

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The Titanic collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912 – over 70 years passed before it was found.

Numerous expeditions tried to map the seabed and place it in vain. It was eventually discovered in two pieces, some 2,000 feet apart, in 1985, 400 miles south of St. Johns, Newfoundland or 900 miles east of Cape Cod in the US.

Although the missing submersible is thought to be close to the wreckage site, it could theoretically be anywhere between the wreck and Newfoundland – making the search area vast.

Speaking to Sky News, Former Rear Admiral Chris Parry said: “What we do know of course is the wreck site is off the Grand Banks and a long way from anywhere.

“The nearest rescue facilities will be on the east coast of the US. It’s a very difficult operation. The actual nature of the sea bed is very undulating. The Titanic herself lies in a trench.”

Titan, although weighing some 10 tonnes, is the size of a minibus at 22 feet long, 9.2 feet wide and 8.3 feet high.

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3. It’s a submersible, not a submarine

While a submarine is fully autonomous and “capable of renewing its own power and breathing air”, a submersible like Titan requires the support of a surface vessel, onshore team or larger submarine, OceanGate Expeditions explains.

Its oxygen supply is, in this way, limited, making a speedy recovery paramount – but so are its power reserves. If it runs out of battery, or if a mechanical issue has cut out the craft’s electrics already, it will be even more difficult to find.

Not only would this render all conventional means of communication inoperable, but the vessel would also be far more difficult to locate via sonar – the primary method of locating objects underwater.

Using advanced microphones, computers analyse the sound patterns made by turning propellers or engines underwater. If silent and stationary, the small submersible will uneasily be distinguished.

Former Rear Admiral Chris Parry added: “There’s lots of debris around so trying to differentiate with sonar in particular and try to target the area you want to search in with another submersible will be very difficult indeed.”

In a statement, OceanGate Expeditions said: “We are exploring and mobilising all options to bring the crew back safely.

“Our entire focus is on the crewmembers in the submersible 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 reestablish contact with the submersible. We are working toward the safe return of the crewmembers.”

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