Missing Titan sub: ‘Landing frame and cover’ found during search near Titanic wreckage

A debris field has found in the ocean in the area where a mini submersible that had gone to view the Titanic went missing, Neil Connery and Lucy Watson report

The ‘landing frame and cover’ of missing submersible Titan have been found in the search for the vessel, according to reports.

David Mearns, a UK-based marine scientist and oceanographer who specialises in searching for shipwrecks, and who is a friend of British billionaire Hamish Harding who is aboard the missing craft, told Sky News and the BBC the debris is from Titan.

Mr Mearns told Sky News he had been contacted by the president of The Explorers Club, which Mr Harding belongs to, saying: “It was a landing frame and a rear cover from the submersible.”

The US Coast Guard said it was not commenting on what the debris consisted of.

The development comes after officials had approximated that "breathable air" on board Titan would run out by midday on Thursday.

"A debris field was discovered within the search area by an ROV near the Titanic. Experts within the unified command are evaluating the information," the US Coast Guard tweeted.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an "active search and rescue" mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

Resources to locate the submersible more than doubled on Thursday as vital equipment arrived, bolstering search capabilities, and authorities confirmed the weather conditions are "favourable".

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: "The outlook is bleak, that's the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission."

The craft lost communication with tour operators while around 435 miles south of St John's, Newfoundland, during a trip to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

The 6.7m (22ft) long OceanGate Expeditions vessel, which has British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding on board, reportedly had a 96-hour oxygen supply in case of emergencies.

Also aboard Titan are UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate's chief executive and founder, Stockton Rush and French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Suleman Dawood, 19, is a student at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, it was confirmed on Thursday.

Undated photo showing staff at work inside the Titan submersible Credit: OceanGate Expeditions / PA

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy said: "I'm sure that everyone here will join me in sharing their thoughts with him and his family at this unprecedented and difficult time."

The US Coast Guard has been leading an international rescue effort.

A pilot for Israeli Airline El Al revealed their commercial craft was sent a message from New York to look for the vessel.

Captain Yohana Cohen tweeted the message they received as they flew over the North Atlantic ocean, which read: "Can you keep an eye outside for the next 20 mins. You are in the area of the missing sub."

After underwater noises were heard on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, US Coast Guard Captain Jamie Frederick said he was "quite frankly" unable to say exactly where the noises originated from.

"We need to have hope, but I can't tell you what the noises are," he said.

One of the vessels sent to help search efforts is French research vessel L'Atalante, which carries a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Victor 6000.

This ROV has a capacity to lift the Titan ship to the surface.

Two Royal Air Force (RAF) planes are also being used to transfer equipment and personnel to St John's to assist with the rescue operation.

Sources within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to the PA news agency that the RAF received a request overnight for assistance with movement of additional commercial equipment.

Suleman Dawood (left) and his father, Shahzada, are among those missing on the Titan. Credit: PA

The area of the search has been constantly expanded, with the surface search now about 10,000 square miles, and the sub-surface search about 2.5 miles deep.

The coast guard had five surface vessels searching for Titan on Wednesday and they expected there to be ten by Thursday, Mr Frederick said at a press conference on Wednesday.

He added: "What I can tell you is, we're searching in the area where the noises were detected, and we'll continue to do so and we hope that when we're able to get additional ROVs [remotely operated vehicles] which will be there in the morning, the intent will be to continue to search in those areas where the noises were detected, and if they're continuing to be detected, and then put additional ROVs down on the last known position where the search was originally taking place."

Asked whether the mission was changing to become a recovery search, he said: "This is a search and rescue mission 100%, we are smack dab in the middle of search and rescue and will continue to put every available asset that we have in an effort to find the Titan and the crew members."

Why is this rescue operation so difficult?

Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland. It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800m from the surface.

Questions have been raised about the safety of the vessel after it emerged earlier in the week that a former employee of OceanGate had raised concerns over "safety and quality control issues regarding the Titan to OceanGate executive management".

David Lochridge, OceanGate's former director of marine operations, claimed in an August 2018 court document that he was wrongfully fired after flagging worries about the company's alleged "refusal to conduct critical, non-destructive testing of the experimental design".

On Wednesday Kathleen Cosnett, a cousin of Mr Harding, 58, told the Telegraph that OceanGate's eight-hour delay before contacting the authorities was "far too long".

Rear Admiral John Mauger confirmed initial reports found that the noise detected by sonar buoys was background ocean noise Credit: OceanGate Expeditions / PA

She said: "It's very frightening. It took so long for them to get going to rescue them, it's far too long. I would have thought three hours would be the bare minimum."

Sean Leet, co-founder and chairman of Horizon Maritime Services, which owns the Polar Prince mothership from which Titan launched, defended the company at a separate press conference on Wednesday.

He said: "OceanGate runs an extremely safe operation.

"Our full focus right now is getting that submersible located and getting those people brought back safely."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...