A U.S. Navy acoustic system detected an "anomaly" on Sunday that was likely the fatal implosion of a private submersible vehicle carrying five people to tour the wreckage of the Titanic, according to a senior military official.
Coast Guard officials said during a news conference Thursday that they've notified the families of the crew of the Titan, which had been missing for days, bringing a tragic end to a saga that included an urgent around-the-clock search and a worldwide vigil for the missing vessel.
Despite an international search and rescue effort, the Associated Press is now reporting that the Navy likely knew the search was futile soon after the sub was lost.
After detecting the sound of the implosion just 500 meters from the Titanic shipwreck, the Navy went back and analyzed its acoustic data.
They found that anomaly was "consistent with an implosion or explosion in the general vicinity of where the Titan submersible was operating when communications were lost," according to the senior Navy official.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the U.S. Navy's sensitive acoustic detection system.
The official said the Navy passed on the information to the Coast Guard, which continued its search until the time had passed that the Titan would have sustained its passengers with breathable air.
From the beginning, the odds were overwhelmingly against the occupants who were lost more than a mile below the sea with no way to communicate with the surface and no signs of life for days.
RMS Titanic wreckage (Atlantic/Magellan)
A debris field, which was a sign of massive damage, was found about a third of a mile from the bow of the Titanic.
"The debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger.
The implosion collapsed the Titan, instantly resulting in its violent breakup and scattering as it descended to the sea floor. That would also explain the sudden loss of communication, inability to automatically resurface, and absence of floating debris.
Almost certainly, there would have been no warning; the destruction massive, and the resultant deaths instantaneous.
It did not collide with the Titanic, according to search officials.
"It's in an area where there is not any debris of Titanic. It is smooth bottom," said Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution undersea expert Carl Hartsfield.
With its oxygen reserves depleted, the four tourists and the company's CEO pilot, would not have survived, but always, the effort was to save them.
"This was an immense support, and we had the right gear on the bottom to find it" said Mauger.
The Admiral was asked about prospects for the recovery of bodies but did not say what the next steps would be in the recovery effort.
"This is an incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the sea floor. But, I don't have an answer for prospects at this time," said Mauger. "Right now, we're focused on documenting the scene."
The debris is a treasure trove of information about what went wrong. But getting down to the depths where Titan or the Titan sub wreckage is located will pose a new challenge for recovery teams.
"We're going to continue remote operations on the sea floor and I don't have a timeline for when we would intend to stop remote operations on the sea floor," said the Admiral.
"It is a difficult day for all of us, and it's especially difficult for the families. And our thoughts are with the families today. But this was an immense support, and we had the right gear on the bottom to find it," he said.
OceanGate Expeditions, the company that developed the submersible, released a statement that said, "These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans. Our hearts are with these fie souls and every member of their families during this tragic time."
Passenger Shahzada Dawood had Bay Area ties. The prominent Pakistani businessman was also on the Board of Trustees at the SETI Institute in Silicon Valley. In an email, CEO Bill Diamond mourned the loss of Shahzada and his 19-year-old son Suleman. He wrote, "I am certain that he would not have knowingly put his son’s life at any risk and was seemingly convinced of the safety of the submersible and its crew. He told me at our April Board meeting in Mountain View that he was going on this expedition, and he had childlike enthusiasm and excitement for what he felt would be a lifetime experience to share with his son."
Also presumed dead are 58-year-old British businessman Hamish Harding and 77-year-old French Navy veteran Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
The CEO of OceanGate, Stockton Rush, was piloting the submersible. His bio said he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1989.
"This was preventable," said Will Kohnen, chairman of the Marine Technology Society’s Submarine group. He said concerns were raised with OceanGate during a conference in 2018 because the submersible bypassed certification rules for its planned expeditions. "At the end of the conference the general consensus in people were saying you know this looks awfully, awfully risky and what do we do? Should we say something? And we did."
Kohnen said parts of the vessel need to be recovered and studied to know exactly what happened.
"The ocean is a very complex harsh environment," said Reza Alam, Director of Ocean and Coastal Science and Engineering at UC Berkeley. He said the hull was under crushing pressure while diving to extreme depths of 13-thousand feet and any implosion would have been instant.
Alam said many materials do not handle salt water well, which is one of the biggest issues for underwater exploration.
"Number one is no wireless communications. Number two is extreme pressure so it needs a whole different set of technologies and expertise and dangers. And that’s why we know very little about our oceans, the depths of our oceans," said Alam.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Danica Kirka in London; and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.