Missing Titanic sub experiences 'catastrophic implosion.' Here's what may have happened

The vessel lost communication about an hour and 45 minutes into the trip to the Titanic wreckage.

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Friday, June 23, 2023
Expert weighs in on 'catastrophic implosion' of Titanic sub
Coast Guard officials said the tail cone and other pieces of the missing submersible Titan were found about 1,600 feet from the wreckage of the Titanic on the sea floor.

BOSTON (WPVI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed the loss of all five people on board the Titan, the submersible vessel that's been missing in the Atlantic Ocean since Sunday.

Details about what was discovered near the Titanic wreck were revealed at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

"In consultation with experts from within the unified command, the debris is consistent with a catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber," said Rear Admiral John Mauger. "Upon this determination, we immediately notified the families."

Coast Guard officials said the tail cone and other pieces of the missing submersible Titan were found about 1,600 feet from the wreckage of the Titanic on the sea floor.

SEE ALSO: Missing Titanic submersible likely imploded near wreck, 5 aboard dead: Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard says a missing submersible imploded near the wreckage of the Titanic, killing all five people on board.

"The ROVs will remain on scene and continue to gather information," said Mauger.

Search crews used a remote-operated vehicle to look for the Titan, which had been missing since Sunday.

The vessel lost communication about an hour and 45 minutes into the trip to the Titanic wreckage.

All five people on board are believed to be dead, including OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush.

Marine archaeologist Steve Nagiewicz with Stockton University knew two of the crew members: Paul-Henri Nargeolet and Hamish Harding.

These are the five people aboard a submersible that went missing near the Titanic wreck.

"The type of debris from that press conference all indicate that there was an implosion. And that was probably because something in the pressure hull of the vessel gave way," he said.

What a 'catastrophic implosion' means

Titan is a carbon fiber submersible that can travel as far as 4,000 meters below sea level, the OceanGate website says.

At the depth of the Titanic, which sits 3,800 meters below sea level, the pressure reaches a level 380 times the atmospheric pressure on the Earth's surface, Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney, said in a blog post on Tuesday.

A fault or failure in the hull of the Titan could have led to an implosion, as the vessel gave way to the high pressure of the deep sea, Williams said.

The implosion of a submersible delivers immense force, oceanographer Bob Ballard told ABC News on Thursday.

"I don't think people can appreciate the amazing energy involved in the destructive process of an implosion," Ballard said. "It just takes out and literally shreds everything."

"It's extremely powerful," he added.

Nagiewicz says, "I'm happy that it would've been quick for the people inside. Instead of a prolonged chilling, waiting for five days at the bottom of the ocean for a hopeful rescue. As bad as this is, it was over pretty quickly."

Navy likely detected sound of the implosion on Sunday: Official

A senior U.S. Navy official confirmed to ABC News that an underwater acoustic detection system heard on Sunday what was likely the implosion of the Titan submersible. The information was immediately shared with the U.S. Coast Guard on Sunday and analysis continued afterwards.

"The U.S. Navy conducted an analysis of acoustic data and detected an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion in the general vicinity of where the Titan submersible was operating when communications were lost," the senior official told ABC News in a statement. "While not definitive, this information was immediately shared with the Incident Commander to assist with the ongoing search and rescue mission."

According to the official, "This information was considered with the compilation of additional acoustic data provided by other partners and the decision was made to continue our mission as a search and rescue and make every effort to save the lives on board."

Separately, a U.S. defense official said an analysis of the "banging" noises picked up by sonar buoys were not from the missing submersible but were either natural ocean sounds, biological noises or noises associated with the surface response vessels.

Are there previous examples of a submersible imploding?

A U.S. nuclear submarine, called Thresher, imploded during a deep-sea dive 220 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a U.S. Navy inquiry showed.

The implosion left 129 sailors dead.

More recently, in 2014, the unmanned Nereus submersible suffered a "catastrophic implosion" while traveling at a depth of 9,990 meters in the Kermadec Trench northeast of New Zealand, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said soon afterward in a statement.

At the time of implosion, Nereus faced pressure of an estimated 6,000 pounds per square inch, WHOI said.

The team of researchers tracking Nereus found "spotted pieces of debris floating on the sea surface" that were later identified as part of the submersible, WHOI said.

Researchers lost contact with Nereus seven hours into a nine-hour mission, WHOI added.

Possible changes going forward

Nagiewicz thinks this tragedy could set a new precedent for submersible vessels going forward.

"The investigation into this will probably change the standards for what submarines can do that take people that deep," said Nagiewicz. "There's a reason why we use remotely operated vehicles - those ROVs. There's nothing in their systems that can be collapsed by pressure because they're designed to work underwater."

SEE ALSO: James Cameron reacts sub implosion: 'I'm struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself'

"I'm struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field," 'Titanic' director James Cameron tells ABC News.

OceanGate, the company that ran the tour and operates the Titan, released a statement Thursday afternoon, expressing grief but also gratitude for the efforts and resources put into finding the Titan:

"The entire OceanGate family is deeply grateful for the countless men and women from multiple organizations of the international community who expedited wide-ranging resources and have worked so very hard on this mission. We appreciate their commitment to finding these five explorers, and their days and nights of tireless work in support of our crew and their families."

Crews are still investigating the exact cause of the implosion.

ABC News contributed to this report.