Missing Titanic sub day 4: Last few hours of oxygen

Search and rescue operation enters critical fourth full day, with five more ships deployed to locate and retrieve the lost submersible.
Sejal Sharma
Undersea robot Victor 6000 has the ability to dive deeper than the Titanic wreck.
Undersea robot Victor 6000 has the ability to dive deeper than the Titanic wreck.


The sense of urgency to locate the missing submersible heightened on Thursday, as the passengers on board have only hours' worth of oxygen left.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that rescuers heard more ‘banging’ sounds. Interesting Engineering had reported that the US Coast Guards picked up a loud banging sound with their sonar on Tuesday, however, they were unable to identify the source of the sound on both occasions.

More ships and ROVs to the rescue

On Wednesday, five ships deployed in the search area, but their number is expected to increase to 10, as rescuers race against time to save five lives.

All hopes lie on French vessel L’Atalante, which carries a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) - Victor 6000 - that can descend to 20,000 feet (6,000 meters), reported The Guardian. It puts the Titanic wreck within range.

According to the tracking website Marine Traffic, L’Atalante has now arrived in the same area as other ships involved in the search.

Missing Titanic sub day 4: Last few hours of oxygen
Victor 6000 arrived on the French research vessel L’Atalante.

Victor 6000 is connected to the French vessel via an 26,246 foot(8 km)-long cable that provides it with electrical power. There is no limit to the duration for which Victor 6000 can dive, and it comes equipped with arms that can conduct manipulations to help release a stranded vessel.

According to CNN, if the sub is found, it would take two hours just to bring it to the surface.

"There is really no way to get oxygen into it at that depth. There is no penetration or anything like that that allows oxygen to be input,” ocean explorer Tom Dettweiler told CNN.

“The thing to do would be to bring it up as quickly as possible and open the hatch and get to the people. Unfortunately, it cannot be brought up all that quickly when it is on the end of a cable and dependent on the speed of a winch to bring it up. You’re still talking about hours, potentially, to get it up," he added.

Limited space

OceanGate’s tourist submersible is the size of a mini truck and began its eight-day expedition to see the wreck of the Titanic on Sunday afternoon.

The sub went missing one hour and 45 minutes into the 12,500-feet (3,800-meter) dive in a remote corner of the Atlantic Ocean.

The sub is 22 feet in length and has a height of 9.2 feet. The front of the sub has a toilet with a curtain separating it from the sitting area. The back of the sub houses all of the electrical equipment and the oxygen supply.

It’s a small space to confine five people in, and one can only imagine the impact humidity, limited oxygen, and dropping temperature will have on the people inside.

Multiple health risks

It’s come to light that major concerns have been raised about the submersible in the last couple of years. Interesting Engineering reported yesterday on how a former employee at OceanGate was fired after he sounded the alarm over what he felt were safety flaws in the sub.

While the passengers face the risk of technical malfunctioning, other health factors could be at play.

BBC spoke to Dr. Ken Ledez, a hyperbaric medicine expert, and Ryan Ramsey, former Royal Navy submarine captain, who presented a couple of scenarios that would really test the survivability of the passengers.

Scenario 1

It’s very much possible that the sub lost power, which makes controlling the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the vessel very difficult. This could mean that as the oxygen level decreases, the carbon dioxide in their environment is rising, which could turn fatal.

Dr. Ledez said, “As levels of carbon dioxide build-up, then it becomes sedative, it becomes like an anesthetic gas, and you will go to sleep."

It seems the sub doesn’t have scrubbers, which remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Captain Ramsey said, "That for me is the greatest problem of all of them." 

Scenario 2

The temperature around the Titan wreck, 3,800 meters deep, is near freezing. Capt Ramsey said that if the sub has also lost electricity, it will not be generating any power and therefore cannot generate heat.

The passengers are at risk of hypothermia. When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it produces.

Lengthy exposure will eventually use up the body's stored energy, leading to lower body temperature. This could impact the passengers’ ability to attract the attention of the rescuers by banging on the hull, etc.

"If they're unconscious, they're not going to be able to do much to help themselves," says Dr Ledez.

Missing Titanic sub day 4: Last few hours of oxygen
In May, OceanGate released a picture of the Titan sub, amid preparations of their third mission to the Titantic wreck in June.

'If anyone can survive it... it's these individuals

Dr. Ledez added, "If anybody can survive in it, you know, it's these individuals.” He is, of course, talking about the passengers on board who come from a wide range of industries, mostly science-based, enabling them to think on their feet.

The CEO of OceanGate, Stockton Rush, is on board the vessel. One can assume he would know the most about the workings of the vessel.

Another passenger, Hamish Harding, is a British businessman, and also a pilot. Being the owner of Action Aviation, he has been on several similar expeditions like visiting the South Pole and going to space as part of the suborbital Blue Origin NS-21 mission in June 2022.

French diver Paul-Henry Nargeolet is also on board. He has been nicknamed ‘Mr. Titanic,’ given his long history with the vessel as he was part of the first expedition in 1987, reported People.

Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Suleman Dawood are also on the sub. Shahzada is a trustee at the SETI Institute, which is a non-profit research organization on life and intelligence in the universe.