Debris and suspected human remains from the Titan submersible have been recovered and returned to land, the US Coast Guard announced Wednesday night, nearly a week after an international search and rescue operation ended and is presumed all five passengers on the ship were dead.
At a Canadian Coast Guard dock in St. John’s, NewfoundlandOn Wednesday, crews unloaded what appeared to be the Titan’s 22-foot hull, crumpled and twisted with exposed wires and cables. Images from The Canadian Press showed what appeared to be a piece of hull plating and other debris being unloaded from the Horizon Arctic, a ship that had deployed a remote-controlled vehicle to search for the submersible on the ocean floor.
The debris will be taken to a US port, where the Board of Marine Research will conduct further analysis and testing. United States medical professionals “will conduct a formal analysis of the suspected human remains that have been carefully recovered from the wreckage at the incident site,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
In a statement, Pelagic Research Services, which led the deep-sea recovery effort, said it had “successfully completed offshore operations” and was in the process of demobilizing, marking the end of a mission and the return to the base of operations. The company did not confirm that the debris belonged to the Titan, said the investigation was continuing and referred questions to the US Coast Guard.
One team has been “working day and night for 10 days, through the mental and physical challenges of this operation, and is eager to finish the mission and return to loved ones,” Pelagic Research Services said in its statement.
Why it matters: Debris could lead to clues
J. Carl Hartsfield, an underwater vehicle designer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the recovered debris could contain vital information about exactly what happened to the Titan. Hartsfield said investigators would be looking for three things: a point of failure for the hull, how carbon fiber and titanium pieces were connected, the sub’s materials; and whether any electronic data was recoverable.
But it won’t be as simple as examining a black box, as investigators do in plane or train crashes. Hartsfield said he believed it was “highly unlikely” that the sub would have a central data logger for a disaster. But, he told her, the data is recorded in different places — hard drives, sonar images and possibly even cameras — that could help investigators begin to paint a story of what happened.
The US Coast Guard is leading the investigation into why the submersible imploded and has convened a board of marine inquiry, the highest level of investigation in the Coast Guard. The board is working closely with other national and international agencies that responded to the event, including authorities in Canada, the United Kingdom and France. There is no timetable for the investigation.
Mr Hartsfield, who was consulted during the search but was not part of the recovery efforts, said an investigation could take 18-24 months.
“It seems like a long time, but there is a lot to do,” he said.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in a statement late Wednesday that it had inspected, documented and cataloged the Titan’s wreckage and turned it over to the US Coast Guard.
He added that he has finished his preliminary interviews and documents related to the apparent implosion of the submersible and that the Polar Prince’s data recorder, which includes audio from inside the ship’s bridge, was in his laboratory in Ottawa for analysis.
Background: a ‘catastrophic implosion’
Nearly two weeks ago, five people set out on a submersible boat to view the wreckage of the Titanic 12,500 feet under the sea. But not even two hours after the dive, the ship lost communications.
A few days later, wreckage from the vessel was found on the ocean floor, including the Titan’s tail cone and other pieces, about 1,600 feet off the bow of the Titanic wreck. The discovery suggested a “catastrophic implosion” with no survivors, according to the US Coast Guard.
Among the victims were the founder of the company that operated it, a British businessman and explorer who held several Guinness World Records, a father and son from a prominent Pakistani family, and a French maritime expert.
eduardo medina and Ian Austin contributed reporting.