Missing Titanic Submarine Rescue Is Still Possible, But "Prepare for Bad News," Expert Says

Authorities are holding out hope they can retrieve the five passengers trapped onboard.

The never-ending interest in the RMS Titanic has spawned more than a century's worth of best-selling books, blockbuster films, and even special exhibitions filled with artifacts brought back to the surface. But while the doomed ocean liner is forever shrouded in tragedy, it's recently been thrust back into the headlines after a submersible on its way to the famous wreck site went missing. Authorities have since been attempting to locate the vessel in hopes they can save the five passengers trapped onboard. And while many are optimistic that rescue is still possible for the missing Titanic submarine, experts caution that we may have to "prepare for bad news." Read on for more details about the ongoing search.

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The search for the missing submersible Titan is still underway after four days.

An overhead shot of the OceanGate submersible, Titan, sitting on a launch ramp of a support vessel
OceanGate / YouTube

Since it went missing just short of two hours after setting off on an expedition to the Titanic wreck site on June 18, the submersible Titan has captured the world's attention. American and Canadian authorities have spent the past four days combing the North Atlantic for the vessel using specialized aircraft, boats, and sonar buoys in a search and rescue mission that had already covered an area "about the size of Connecticut" by June 20, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The 22-foot submersible was carrying five passengers when it began its journey to the famous shipwreck, which sits roughly 12,500 feet below the ocean's surface. Those aboard include Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate, which operates the dives for tourists willing to pay upwards of $250,000 apiece to see the legendary lost ocean liner for themselves, per The New York Times.

An expert says we should "prepare for bad news" as the window for rescue grows narrower.

A Coast Guard ship patrolling the ocean
iStock / iShootPhotosLLC

The mission to locate the vessel has remained a race against the clock as the U.S. Coast Guard estimated the Titan had 70 to 96 hours of breathable oxygen left, per Insider. But although authorities remain optimistic they can rescue the lost submersible, one expert warns that the worst might be yet to come.

In an interview with NPR, David Marquet, a retired U.S. Navy submarine captain, said the logistics of safely returning the passengers make the situation appear particularly grim.

"It's basically imagining a spacecraft disappeared on the far side of the moon," he explained. "A, you have to find it. B, you have to get to it. Even when you get to it … you still need to somehow get the people out of there to safety."

"I'm hopeful, but I think the families should prepare themselves for bad news," he added.

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Marquet believes the chances of the passengers surviving the ordeal are extraordinarily low.

A close up of the U.S. Coast Guard seal painted on a ship
iStock / sshaw75

Since the submersible's disappearance, experts have speculated on the possible scenarios of what could have happened to the vessel.

Some suspect that the Titan may have suffered a "catastrophic failure" of its hull and imploded under the crushing pressures of the deep ocean, leaving almost no hope for survivors, Insider reports. Others speculate that the submersible could be stuck in the wreckage of the Titanic itself, while a best-case scenario would be that the vessel is floating on the ocean's surface, waiting to be found and opened.

But other experts point out that if the Titan is anywhere near the depths where it lost contact with its support vessel, the likelihood of rescue grows increasingly slimmer.

"The deepest submarine rescue ever performed was 1,500 feet … This is 13,000 feet," David Pogue, a reporter with CBS News who previously toured the missing vessel, said in an interview with CBS Mornings. "There's no other craft that can get down there in time."

Despite the chance the passengers could be found before oxygen runs out, Marquet was ultimately pessimistic about the success of the search and rescue mission. He told NPR he believed the chances of those onboard surviving was at "about 1 percent."

Authorities remain hopeful about the rescue even as time is about to run out.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and boat performing a search and rescue operation
Shutterstock / gmeland

While authorities have yet to locate the missing submersible, the past two days have yielded the first potential clues that the crew may still be alive and awaiting rescue. On June 20 and 21, internal Coast Guard communications indicated that it had picked up the sound of "banging" in 30-minute intervals in the area where the sub was believed to be missing, Rolling Stone reported.

In a pair of tweets early on the morning of June 22, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)—including a French vessel—had been deployed to the seabed and were searching for signs of the Titan. Despite the odds, authorities said they hadn't yet shifted the focus of their mission from a search and rescue operation.

"I don't want to get into a discussion about when that would end with respect to this case," Captain Jamie Frederick with the First Coast Guard District in Boston told reporters during a press conference on June 21, per USA Today.

"The Coast Guard prosecutes search and rescue cases on a daily basis. And sometimes we don't find what we're looking for," he said. "And you have to carefully consider all of the factors. And there are a lot of factors to consider. And then after you consider all of those factors, sometimes you're in a position where you have to make a tough decision. We're not there yet."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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