As search operations continued on Wednesday for the missing Titan submersible with dwindling oxygen supplies, new details emerged about the warnings experts had issued to the company responsible for the underwater vessel.
Internal documents revealed that an employee at OceanGate, the owner of the experimental craft, had raised concerns about potential safety risks associated with its development. Leaders in the submersible industry had also cautioned the company about the potentially “catastrophic” consequences of its approach to the project.
The submersible, measuring 21 feet in length, had set out with five individuals on board, embarking on a dive to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. However, contact with the support ship was lost late Sunday, leaving the fate of the British adventurer, two members of a Pakistani business family, a Titanic expert, and the CEO of OceanGate uncertain.
In a lawsuit filed in 2018 in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, it was revealed that David Lochridge, OceanGate’s director of marine operations, had authored an engineering report expressing the need for further testing and raising concerns about the potential endangerment of passengers at “extreme depths.” The lawsuit alleged that Lochridge breached a non-disclosure agreement, but he countered with claims of wrongful termination for questioning testing procedures and safety measures. The case was later settled on undisclosed terms.
Lochridge’s primary concerns revolved around OceanGate’s reliance on sensitive acoustic monitoring, which involved detecting cracks or popping sounds emitted by the hull under high pressure, rather than utilizing hull scanning technology. According to Lochridge, the company claimed that no equipment capable of performing such tests on the 5-inch-thick carbon-fiber hull existed.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard announced via Twitter that underwater noises had been detected in the search area by a Canadian aircraft. Subsequent operations involving remotely operated vehicles were initiated to locate the source of these sounds.
Although the searches conducted by the ROVs yielded no positive results so far, the Coast Guard shared the data from the P-3 aircraft with U.S. Navy experts for further analysis, which would be taken into consideration for future search plans. Rear Adm. John Mauger, First District Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard, mentioned during an interview on CBS This Morning that there were numerous metallic and miscellaneous objects in the water near the site, but the source of the noises remained unknown.
Three vessels joined the search efforts on Wednesday morning, as reported by the U.S. Coast Guard on Twitter. These included the John Cabot, equipped with side scanning sonar capabilities, along with the Skandi Vinland and the Atlantic Merlin. The decision to dispatch these vessels came after crews reported hearing “banging” and experiencing “acoustic feedback” during Tuesday’s search operations, as revealed in an internal memo obtained by Rolling Stone and CNN and sent to Department of Homeland Security leadership.
According to the memo, the Canadian aircraft had detected banging sounds occurring every 30 minutes. Despite the deployment of additional sonar, the banging persisted even four hours later. The update did not specify the exact timing or duration of the banging sounds.
In a further update on Tuesday night, search crews reported hearing additional instances of acoustic feedback. The update stated that this feedback would aid in directing surface assets and provided continued hope for the possibility of survivors.