A deep-sea submersible carrying five people on a voyage to the century-old wreck of the Titanic was found in pieces from a “catastrophic implosion”
A deep-sea submersible named Titan, operated by OceanGate Expeditions, met a devastating end during its mission to explore the century-old wreck of the Titanic. The United States Coast Guard announced that the submersible was discovered in pieces, resulting from a catastrophic implosion that claimed the lives of all five people on board. The multinational search for the vessel concluded with the detection of a debris field, including major fragments of the Titan, near the bow of the Titanic in the remote depths of the North Atlantic.
What is a ‘catastrophic implosion’?
We can assume the implosion actually happened on the first day of the dive – but perhaps not exactly at the same time communication was lost with the mothership. But why did it happen?
Most, if not all, submersibles and submarines operating at depth have a pressure vessel made of a single metallic material with high yield strength. This is typically steel for relatively shallow depths (roughly less than 300 metres), or titanium for deeper depths.
A titanium or thick steel pressure vessel is usually a spherical shape that can withstand the crushing pressures you might expect at 3,800m – the depth at which the Titanic wreck lies.
The Titan, however, was different. Its pressure vessel was made of a combination of titanium and composite carbon fibre. This is somewhat unusual from a structural engineering perspective since, in a deep diving context, titanium and carbon fibre are materials with vastly different properties.
Titanium is elastic and can adapt to an extended range of stresses without any measurable permanent strain remaining after the return to atmospheric pressure. It shrinks to adjust to pressure forces, and re-expands as these forces are alleviated. A carbon-fibre composite, on the other hand, is much stiffer and does not have the same kind of elasticity.
We can only speculate about what happened with the combination of these two technologies, which do not dynamically behave the same way under pressure.
But what we can say almost certainly is that there would have been some kind of loss of integrity due to the differences between these materials. A composite material could potential suffer from “delamination”, which leads to a separation of the layers of reinforcement.
This would have created a defect which triggered an instantaneous implosion due to the underwater pressure. Within less than one second, the vessel — being pushed down on by the weight of a 3,800m column of water — would have immediately crumpled in from all sides.
James Cameron who made the film Titanic and also visited titanic in deep water for more than 30+ times said in an interview ,”I wish I have been more vocal about it. This news had deeply saddened me.” He also added that the build quality wasnt good. When news came that the communication is lost, I was almost sure that an catastropic implosion may had happened. Now the submarine is found exactly down where the communication was lost.
Renata Rojas went down in history, after becoming one of the first Mexicans to reach the remains of the Titanic, traveling on the Titan, years before the submersible disappeared and days later the death of the five crew members was confirmed, due to a “catastrophic implosion”.
Paul-Henri Nargeolet, one of the five passengers killed in the Titan implosion, died on a trip to the famous wreckage that he had visited many times before.
Nargeolet was an underwater explorer and deep-sea diver who gained fame for his involvement in the exploration and study of the RMS Titanic wreck.
Teenage passenger on the Titan reportedly ‘terrified’ of the trip
One aspect of the Titan tragedy that has caught a lot of attention is the presence of 19-year-old Suleman Dawood who was reportedly “terrified” of going on the trip.
According to NBC News, the boy’s aunt said he only went on the trip because it was Father’s Day and he wanted to please his dad Shahzada Dawood, who was a big Titanic enthusiast.
Loss of Contact and Implosion
The Titan had been missing since it lost contact with its surface support ship from a week. Coast Guard officials stated that the debris field aligned with the characteristics of a catastrophic implosion of the submersible. The exact cause of the implosion and subsequent destruction of the Titan remains unknown.
The Titanic’s Legacy
RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early morning of 15 April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. The recent expedition to explore the wreck has drawn significant interest due to the Titanic’s historical significance and the popularity of books and movies, such as the blockbuster film “Titanic” released in 1997.