Expected to be crucial to investigation into 'catastrophic implosion'
The U.S. coast guard says it will conduct a formal analysis of what it calls "presumed human remains" that have been recovered from the wreckage area of the Titan submersible.
The remains were "carefully recovered" from the site, almost 700 kilometres off the coast of St. John's, the coast guard said in a news release Wednesday evening.
The vessel Horizon Arctic returned to port today, carrying the presumed remains and shattered pieces of the Titan, 10 days after it went missing with five souls on board. All five were deemed lost at sea last week, when debris was found near the wreck of the Titanic.
"The evidence will provide investigators from several international jurisdictions with critical insights into the cause of this tragedy," said Jason Neubauer, chair of the Marine Board of Investigation.
"There is still a substantial amount of work to be done to understand the factors that led to the catastrophic loss of the Titan and help ensure a similar tragedy does not occur again."
Neubauer expressed his gratitude for the inter-agency and international recovery effort.
A crane lifted the submersible's nose cone, pieces of its hull and a section of the tail into the air and lowered them to the Canadian Coast Guard dock in St. John's.
"It's just a very eerie feeling here this morning, knowing that people were on that, and that's all that's left," said Sarah Grenning, who stopped her morning run to watch the pieces being offloaded. "Those are people's sons and fathers and relatives. It's just unfortunate."
All five people on board are believed to have been killed by a sudden implosion. That includes OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush, whose company built the Titan with an experimental design using carbon fibre and titanium.
In previous interviews, Rush acknowledged the materials were not standard for deep-sea submersibles.
"I'd like to be remembered as an innovator," Rush told vlogger Alan Estrada in 2021. "I've broken some rules to make this. I think I've broken them with logic and good engineering behind me. The carbon fibre and titanium, there's a rule you don't do that. Well, I did."
The remnants of the submersible — those pieces of carbon fibre and titanium — will now be turned over to investigators to figure out what went wrong. Transportation safety boards from the United States and Canada, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and RCMP are now probing the incident.
They may try to piece the vessel back together, according to a marine investigations expert who spoke with CBC News earlier this week.
"Just like an airline crash, they may try to reassemble the sub to put the parts together like a puzzle to determine where the failure point was," said Tom Maddox, founder and CEO of Underwater Forensic Investigations. "In the case of a massive implosion that's not going to be an easy task because much of the craft would have disintegrated."
There are no timelines for any of the investigations.
Former Canadian TSB investigator Marc-André Poisson said the Americans will likely lead the process, with assistance from their Canadian colleagues, rather than conducting separate investigations.
He said the wreckage on display Wednesday will play an important role but emphasized that it's not going to tell the full story.
"The Titan is only one component of the failure," Poisson said. "There could be multiple human factors involved that helped create the causes, conditions and contributing factors to the accident."
He said investigators will build a sequence of events from the facts they gather, create hypotheses on what could have happened and then test them in the lab — all in an effort to "build a whole understanding of how the system failed."
Dr. Ken LeDez, a hyperbaric medicine specialist in St. John's, told CBC News earlier on Wednesday he believed recovery of human remains could be possible.
"I think it would be unwise to rule out the possibility that they could recover recognizable bodies," he said. "I think it's possible. Everything depends on the exact second [the Titan imploded], the way things happened."
LeDez said there's never been an actual study of what happens to a human body at such depths, so it's hard to rule anything out.
"Of course the relatives would like to have the bodies for funerals and closure, of course. And I think it's possible, but we just don't know."
Crews return to shore after long ordeal
It's been a long mission for the men and women on board the Horizon Arctic.
The ship left St. John's on June 21 and arrived at the search scene the following day. It was carrying the Odysseus, a remotely operated vehicle that was dispatched from New York soon after the submersible was reported missing.
The ROV brought the rescue mission to an end on Friday, when it spotted debris on the ocean floor a few hundred metres away from the hull of the Titanic.
"Our team has successfully completed offshore operations, but is still on mission and will be in the process of demobilization from the Horizon Arctic this morning," said a spokesperson from Pelagic Research, the company that owns the Odysseus ROV.
"They have been working around the clock now for 10 days, through the physical and mental challenges of this operation, and are anxious to finish the mission and return to their loved ones."
The Horizon Arctic is owned by the same company as the Polar Prince, the ship tasked with towing the submersible out to sea and hovering above while it dived to the Titanic.
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