Why the Search for the Titanic Sub Is So Complex

In a nutshell, there are 'very few assets in the world that can go down that deep'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2023 2:00 AM CDT
Why the Search for the Titanic Sub Is So Complex
In this photo released by Action Aviation, the submersible Titan is prepared for a dive into a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean on an expedition to the Titanic on Sunday, June 18, 2023. Rescuers raced against time Tuesday, June 20, to find the missing submersible carrying five people, who were reported...   (Action Aviation via AP)

A big issue in the search for the submersible that went missing during an expedition to the Titanic wreck is just how deep that wreckage sits. It's around 13,000 feet below sea level, and a retired Navy captain with three decades of experience including salvage operations tells CNN, "There’s very few assets in the world that can go down that deep." Even sophisticated naval craft can only dive about 1,000 feet per hour, meaning if the sub is close to the wreckage, getting to it and surfacing again could take an entire day. On such a journey, a remote craft wouldn't be able to search along the ocean floor once it got there: "When you’re going deep, you usually go up and down like an elevator," the expert says. Adding to the difficulty: The sub is white, making it difficult to spot from the air, an expert tells Reuters, and rescuers aren't sure whether they should be focusing on the surface or the sea floor, he adds.

Similarly, a US Coast Guard rear admiral tells the BBC, "There are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers." The Navy's manned rescue craft only go to a depth of around 2,000 feet, Rolling Stone reports, and US military remote-operated vehicles wouldn't be able to lift the sub. Because of that, according to internal emails obtained by Rolling Stone, "the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre is working to find an underwater remote-operated vehicle through partner organizations to possibly assist." And, as Axios also notes, locating the sub in a search area the size of Connecticut is one thing, but far from the only thing—it must then also be recovered, no small feat. Last but not least, the occupants of the sub can't let themselves out: Someone must undo the bolts from outside the vessel, and experts say there will be no way to transfer them to a rescue vehicle underwater.

A remote-operated craft about the size of a cargo van, tethered to a ship at the surface, might be an option to attempt to locate the sub, the expert who spoke to CNN says, but another even more specialized vehicle—the Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System or FADOSS, one of which was expected to arrive in the search area by Tuesday night—would be required to bring the sub up, since it can lift as much as 60,000 pounds. For more, the Wall Street Journal takes a look at the sophisticated equipment and vehicles assisting with the search, complete with illustrations, and NPR looks into one deep-sea rescue that was successful—among a number of others that weren't. (Read more Titanic stories.)

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