The five missing tourists lost near the wreck of the Titanic could have experienced lung pressure, ‘nitrogen narcosis’ and hypothermia if the 22ft sub’s hull ruptured, experts said.
Rescue teams are racing against the clock three days after the deep-sea ship Titan went missing.
Although there are signs that they may still be alive, what caused the submarine to disappear and what happened to it are still unknown.
One scenario is a hull breach while the ship is in the deep sea, and if that happens, experts say the occupants have almost zero chance of survival.
Dr Nicolai Rotterman, a deep-sea ecologist at the University of Portsmouth, said such an accident would have killed the sub-inhabitants almost immediately from the pressure.
The wreck of the Titanic (12,500 feet) is far below the level of water pressure that humans can withstand without the protection of a submarine. If the Titan’s hull breaks, experts say the chances of survival are almost nil
Although some animals can survive at extreme depths thanks to extreme adaptations, humans can only go about 400 feet without the aid of modern technology.
The Titan ship will have a carbon dioxide scrubber to remove excess toxic gases that are created when passengers exhale in confined spaces, but its capacity is limited to that of most craft. There is also the risk of hypothermia due to lower temperatures at sea depths, as well as hyperventilation induced by panic attacks, which can use up more precious oxygen.
The Titan ship, which is still missing, will have a carbon dioxide scrubber on board to remove excess toxic gases that are created when passengers exhale in confined spaces, but it will have limited capabilities like most craft.
‘If there was any kind of hull breach, the occupants would quickly sink into the sea given the pressure of more than 5,500 pounds per square inch exerted by the sea at a depth of 3,800 meters (12,467 feet).’
Professor Alastair Greig, a marine engineering expert at University College London, simply added that if the hull had been compromised in any way the ‘prognosis is not good’.
The Titan disappeared while diving towards the wreck of the Titanic, 12,500 feet below the surface of the water.
The deepest human free dive, a deep swim without any equipment like scuba gear, only goes to 400 feet and is still dangerous.
Special equipment, such as special gas mixtures to cope with the intense pressure of the ocean depths, has enabled only human divers to reach depths of about 1,700 feet.
Even whales that have evolved to feed in the deep sea go as high as 10,000 feet.
The deep sea is so inhospitable in part because of pressure.
Standing on the Earth’s surface, your body is under constant but unnoticed pressure from the surrounding air.
Scientists call this one atmosphere, which translates to about 14.7lbs of pressure per square inch.
Once people go underwater, they have to contend with water pressure, which is much denser than the air around them.
This pressure increases the deeper you go due to the weight of the water above at a rate of one atmosphere per 33 feet.
At the depths of the Titanic’s wreckage, the pressure would be about 380 times greater than that experienced by humans on the surface.
As water pressure increases, any space it fills with air collapses under the weight.
For submarines with hull damage, this can result in a breach, potentially causing trauma to any persons inside.
And for biological systems, like the lungs, acute stress can be catastrophic.
At 9.45am – one hour and 45 minutes into the sinking – it lost contact with its mothership, the Polar Prince. But the US Coast Guard was not reported missing until eight hours later at 5.40pm. The Canadian Coast Guard was not alerted until 9:13 p.m. Sunday.
Among those taking part in the campaign is billionaire Hamish Harding (pictured), CEO of Action Aviation in Dubai. She excitedly posted on social media about being there on Sunday
Oceangate expedition CEO Stockton Rush (right) along with French Navy veteran PH Nargiolet (left) are believed to be taking part in the expedition.
Shahzada Dawood, 48, a board member of the UK-based Prince’s Trust charity, and her 19-year-old son Sulaiman Dawood were on board.
Such pressure can be experienced at a very early stage by swimming in the deep end of a swimming pool as water pressure begins to affect the air inside your ear.
But at extreme depths this pressure becomes fatal.
At the depths that the Titan aims to reach, unprotected people will have their lungs collapse and their eardrums burst from the weight of the water.
The liquid would then rush through the mouth to fill the space left behind and cause the unfortunate person to drown.
Humans can survive for about 15 minutes without oxygen, although they lose consciousness long before that, with brain damage likely after only a few minutes without air.
If such a breach occurred on Titan, it is unlikely that the bodies of the occupants would have crushed themselves.
The water pressure theoretically required to crush human bones is about 22 miles, about three times deeper than the deepest recorded parts of the ocean.
However, such devastating injuries can occur in inflatable diving suits, which deform under pressure and crush their unfortunate occupants.
But even with an air supply, another deep-sea hazard would hasten the end of anyone caught in such an unfortunate situation.
At the high pressure found in the deep sea, the body’s internal chemistry begins to change.
This causes nitrogen, which forms part of the air we breathe, to become more soluble, allowing the dissolved form of the gas to enter the blood.
Because human tissue requires oxygen, not nitrogen, to survive, this imbalance causes a condition called nitrogen narcosis — the body effectively suffocating from the inside out.
Even without these factors, an unprotected person must contend with the possibility of rapid hypothermia setting in.
There is little light in the deep ocean and the temperature at 12,500 feet is about 2°C (36°F).
In humans, hypothermia can occur in water as cold as 4°C (40°F), where body systems begin to shut down with exhaustion and confusion.
Various air-breathing animals such as whales, seals and sea turtles have developed special adaptations to compensate for going so deep.
Some species preemptively collapse their lungs and slow down their physical activity before sinking to the depths, surviving on the oxygen in their blood.
Others have expandable and strong internal structures to prevent stress from breaking the tissue.
The Titanic lost contact with tour operator Oceangate Expeditions about 435 miles south of St. John’s, Newfoundland, during its cruise off the coast of Canada on Sunday.
Titan has five people on its board, including British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding, as well as one of Pakistan’s richest men, Shahzada Dawood, and his son Suleiman.
Others on board were Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleiman, 19, Oceangate chief executive and founder Stockton Rush and French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargiolet.
If the hull is not breached and the vessel is stranded with no power, its five passengers will be in total darkness at about 3°C (37°F) as the craft rolls to the seabed.
Yesterday, the US Coast Guard estimated the 22-foot vessel had only 40 hours of oxygen left.
This gives rescuers until tomorrow morning to find the ship.
Even if the ship floats in ocean currents, it is designed to open only from the outside, meaning the time limit remains.
OceanGate is also facing questions about why it took so long to alert authorities to the missing vessel, raising the alarm to the Coast Guard only eight hours after contact was lost.
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