The U.S. Coast Guard said that search and rescue crews found a debris field near the wreckage of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean, coming days after a rescue effort was launched to find a missing OceanGate submarine with five people on board.
In a post on Twitter Thursday, the Coast Guard said an underwater vessel found a debris field near the wreckage, although no details were provided. It’s not clear if officials believe the debris field is connected to the OceanGate Titan submersible vehicle or if they believe the crew and passengers are still alive.
“Experts within the unified command are evaluating the information,” the U.S. Coast Guard wrote. The agency said it will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. ET to “discuss findings from the Horizon Arctic’s ROV on the sea floor near the Titanic.”
The official update comes as the submarine’s “landing frame and a rear cover” was found among the debris field, said David Mearns, dive expert and friend of the passengers, in a Thursday afternoon interview. He did not say how he obtained that information.
The search passed the critical 96-hour mark Thursday when breathable air could have run out, while the Titan was estimated to have about a four-day supply of breathable air when it launched Sunday morning in the North Atlantic. Experts said that it was an approximation and that the oxygen supply could be extended if passengers took measures to conserve the air.
The Titan was reported overdue Sunday afternoon about 435 miles south of St. John’s, Newfoundland, as it was on its way to where the iconic ocean liner sank more than a century ago. OceanGate Expeditions, which is leading the trip, has been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around it via yearly voyages since 2021.
“Today will be a critical day in this search and rescue mission, as the sub’s life support supplies are starting to run low,” he said in a statement posted to his Facebook. He also said that the crew members “realized days ago that the best thing they can do to ensure their rescue is to extend the limits of those supplies by relaxing as much as possible,” although it’s not clear how they would do that.
Sohnlein added that he believes the “time window available for their rescue is longer than what most people think” and made reference to a similar incident that occurred about 50 years ago. “In 1972, a similar rescue operation was able to retrieve two pilots trapped in a downed submersible with only 72 hours of life support,” he wrote. “I continue to hold out hope for my friend and the rest of the crew.”
While saying that people shouldn’t speculate on the crew’s fate, “I ask that we wait until after the crew returns and conducts a proper debrief to speculate on what happened,” he added in the post. “We need to give those involved with the rescue enough room to focus on their work, and we need to give the crew’s families privacy to deal with their emotions in their own personal way.”
However, many obstacles still remain. Officials will have to find the vessel’s location, to reaching it with rescue equipment, to bringing it to the surface—assuming it’s still intact. And all that has to happen before the passengers’ oxygen supply runs out.
“You’re talking about totally dark environments,” in which an object several dozen feet away can be missed, he said. “It’s just a needle in a haystack situation unless you’ve got a pretty precise location.”
Lost aboard the vessel is pilot Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate. His passengers are: British adventurer Hamish Harding; Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, and his son Suleman; and French explorer and Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet.