‘Time is against us’: tapping heard in Titanic sub search

Canadian aircraft detected intermittent banging noises near where submersible disappeared

Titanic shipwreck on ocean floor lit by searchlights
The submersible went missing during its descent to the wreck of the Titanic, which sits at a depth of 3,800 metres
(Image credit: Ralph White/Getty Images)

A military aircraft searching for the missing Titan submersible heard “banging” noises from the last known location of the divers.

Intermittent “banging” in 30-minute intervals was detected by a Canadian military aircraft, coming from the area where the submersible and its five passengers disappeared in the North Atlantic, according to internal emails sent by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Operations Center and obtained by Rolling Stone.

“The P8 deployed sonobuoys, which reported a contact in a position close to the distress position,” the emails read. “The P8 heard banging sounds in the area every 30 minutes. Four hours later additional sonar was deployed and banging was still heard.”

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The email added that a “white rectangular object” had been found in the water.

On Tuesday evening, an email sent to DHS leadership said the sound “will assist in vectoring surface assets and also indicating continued hope of survivors”, according to the magazine.

The Boston Coast Guard and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Nova Scotia declined to comment on the reported sounds.

“Canadian P-3 aircraft detected underwater noises in the search area,” said the U.S. Coast Guard in a statement on Wednesday. “As a result, ROV [remotely operated vehicle] operations were relocated in an attempt to explore the origin of the noises. Those ROV searches have yielded negative results but continue.”

The statement did not elaborate on what rescuers believed the noises could be, “though it offered a glimmer of hope for those lost aboard the Titan”, said The Independent.

Experts have described the incredibly challenging task of finding and potentially rescuing the sub before its oxygen supply runs out.

US Navy nuclear-powered submarines usually only operate at 800ft or less, and might “implode” at lower depths due to the increased water pressure, said CNN.

The service has one specialised submarine rescue vehicle which can descend up to 2,000ft, reported The New York Times. The Titanic wreck lies at a depth of approximately 13,000 feet. If the submersible is anywhere near the wreck, “the only likely rescue” would come from a remotely operated vehicle, like an underwater drone.

The wreck site is about 370 miles south of Newfoundland, and the ships that can carry Navy deep-diving robots “normally move no faster than about 20 miles per hour”, the paper said.

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Harriet Marsden is a writer for The Week, mostly covering UK and global news and politics. Before joining the site, she was a freelance journalist for seven years, specialising in social affairs, gender equality and culture. She worked for The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and regularly contributed articles to The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, Tortoise Media and Metro, as well as appearing on BBC Radio London, Times Radio and “Woman’s Hour”. She has a master’s in international journalism from City University, London, and was awarded the "journalist-at-large" fellowship by the Local Trust charity in 2021.