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Titanic sub has roughly 40 hours of oxygen left, US Coast Guard warns as rescuers race against time

Rescue crews are desperately searching for the vessel that vanished in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday.

Rescuers in a remote area of the Atlantic Ocean raced against time Tuesday to find a missing submersible before the oxygen supply runs out for five people who were on a mission to document the wreckage of the Titanic.

Authorities reported the carbon-fiber vessel overdue Sunday night, setting off an international rescue effort in waters about 700 kilometres) south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Aboard were a pilot, a renowned British adventurer, two members of a Pakistani business family and a Titanic expert.

Named the Titan, the submersible had a 96-hour oxygen supply when it put to sea at roughly 6am Sunday, according to David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate Expeditions, which oversaw the mission. That means the oxygen supply could run out Thursday morning.

Journalist David Pogue, who traveled to Titanic aboard the Titan last year, said the vehicle uses two communication systems: text messages that go back and forth to a surface ship and safety pings that are emitted every 15 minutes to indicate that the sub is still working.

Both of those systems stopped about an hour and 45 minutes after the Titan submerged.

"There are only two things that could mean. Either they lost all power or the ship developed a hull breach and it imploded instantly. Both of those are devastatingly hopeless,” Pogue said on Tuesday.

Experts said the rescuers face steep challenges.

Alistair Greig, a professor of marine engineering at University College London, said submersibles typically have a drop weight, which is “a mass they can release in the case of an emergency to bring them up to the surface using buoyancy.”

“If there was a power failure and/or communication failure, this might have happened, and the submersible would then be bobbing about on the surface waiting to be found,” Greig said.

Another scenario is a leak in the pressure hull, in which case the prognosis is not good, he said.

“If it has gone down to the seabed and can’t get back up under its own power, options are very limited,” Greig said. “While the submersible might still be intact, if it is beyond the continental shelf, there are very few vessels that can get that deep, and certainly not divers.”

Even if they could go that deep, he doubts rescuers could attach to the submersible.

By Tuesday morning, an area totaling 10,000 square miles had been searched, the US Coast Guard tweeted.

The Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince, which was supporting the Titan, was to continue conducting surface searches with help from a Canadian Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft, the Coast Guard said on Twitter. Two U.S. Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft also conducted overflights.

The Canadian military dropped sonar buoys to listen for any possible sounds from the Titan.

OceanGate’s expeditions to the Titanic wreck site include archaeologists and marine biologists. The company also brings people who pay €230,000 to come along, known as “mission specialists.” They take turns operating sonar equipment and performing other tasks in the submersible.

The Coast Guard said Monday that the Titan carried a pilot and four “mission specialists." However, OceanGate's website suggests that the fifth person may be a so-called “content expert” who guides the paying customers.

The Titanic wreck lies 3,800 metres down at the bottom of the Atlantic, 400 nautical miles off the coast of Canada.

It sunk in April 1912 after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Of the 2,200 people onboard, just 706 survived.

The wreck was discovered in 1985. A large amount of debris surrounds the destroyed ship.

In recent years, small submersibles have started taking tourists to visit.

OceanGate's first dive happened in 2021, says the company on its website.

Each of its expeditions is supposed to have a scientific objective, with each dive taking eight hours from top to bottom.

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