Rescue teams continue search for missing passengers in submersible
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A Canadian surveillance plane picked up underwater noises during the search for the missing submersible in the North Atlantic.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
That vessel, known as Titan, lost contact while diving at the wreck of the Titanic on Sunday. The people on board likely have less than a day's oxygen supply remaining. The search efforts are now being organized through a unified command center at the Coast Guard base in Boston.
MARTIN: Walter Wuthmann of member station WBUR is following the search, and he's with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Walter.
WALTER WUTHMANN, BYLINE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So what can you tell us about the latest on the situation?
WUTHMANN: So very early this morning, the Coast Guard said Canadian P-3 aircraft detected, quote, "underwater noises" in the search area around the wreck of the Titanic. As a result, they've sent in remote-operated underwater vehicles to explore the origin of those noises. Those ROVs haven't found anything yet, but the search continues as we speak. And to step back a bit, this search-and-rescue operation started Sunday night and is now in its third day. U.S. and Canadian planes and ships are combing a patch of water about the size of Connecticut, and they're working really far from shore. Here's Coast Guard Captain Jamie Frederick.
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JAMIE FREDERICK: You're talking about a search area that's 900 miles east of Cape Cod, 400 miles south of St. John's. So logistically speaking, it's hard to bring assets to bear. It takes time. It takes coordination.
WUTHMANN: So they're still searching, and these newly detected underwater noises are the first major break since they started.
MARTIN: So he spoke about coordination. So I take it that the Coast Guard is getting some help from private industry and research vessels.
WUTHMANN: That's right. And that's because it's incredibly difficult to actually search under the water. Coast Guard officials say they're trained for surface rescue and don't have equipment that can dive deep enough to search for the submersible. So they have to get help. The research vessel that launched Titan, the Polar Prince, is still out there and assisting with the search. And a commercial ship called Deep Energy arrived at the site yesterday. Coast Guard Captain Frederick said it's equipped for laying pipes on the seafloor so has remote-operated vehicles that can dive all the way down.
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FREDERICK: They have rendezvoused with the vessel Polar Prince and commenced an ROV dive at the last known of the position of the Titan and the approximate position of the Titanic wreck. That operation is currently ongoing.
WUTHMANN: And they said they're still actively soliciting more help.
MARTIN: Now, this submersible belongs to a private company, OceanGate, which operates private tours of the Titanic site. I understand that their safety record has drawn scrutiny in recent days.
WUTHMANN: Yes. And people have raised safety concerns about OceanGate's submersible Titan before. We obtained federal court documents from a contract dispute in 2018 that showed the company's former director of marine operations was concerned about the vessel's structural integrity. That employee, David Lochridge, was an experienced submarine pilot and said OceanGate didn't properly test the submersible's carbon fiber hull. The documents say that Lochridge expressed verbal concerns to executive management, which were ignored, and later wrote a report identifying, quote, "numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns."
His lawyers wrote that instead of addressing the points he raised, the company fired him. The company, meanwhile, said that Lochridge was not an engineer and refused to accept assurances from the company's lead engineer that their testing was sufficient. The party settled out of court in 2018, and the details of that settlement aren't public. OceanGate didn't return our request for comment, and a lawyer for David Lochridge said that he had no comment.
MARTIN: So as briefly as you can, Walter, before we let you go, how much time do they have at this point?
WUTHMANN: Yesterday, they estimated, as you said up top, about 40 hours of oxygen left. That would put us at about a day's worth now. So hope hasn't run out. And these new noises they've detected allow them to really focus in on this specific area. So I'm sure that's what they will be doing today.
MARTIN: That's Walter Wuthmann of member station WBUR in Boston. Walter, thanks so much for sharing this reporting with us.
WUTHMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.