A “debris field” has been found in the area where authorities are searching for the missing Titanic submersible four days after the vessel disappeared, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Thursday. In a race against the clock, the search and rescue mission, which started Sunday, may be coming to a close amid the recent discovery—either for good or for ill. The Coast Guard said in a Tuesday press conference that the five passengers aboard had roughly 96 hours of oxygen with them, which could make Thursday the final day to find them alive.

“A debris field was discovered within the search area by an ROV near the Titanic,” the Coast Guard reported in a Twitter post. It continued, “Experts within the unified command are evaluating information.” The Coast Guard will be holding a press briefing at 3 p.m. EST.

Dive expert, David Mearns, told the BBC that “a landing frame and a rear cover from the submersible” were among the debris found on the ocean floor.

The submersible was carrying five passengers when it disappeared only one hour and 45 minutes into its voyage. Titan’s operator, OceanGate Expeditions, reported it has “somehow lost communications with the vessel,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger’s remarks at a press conference Monday.

Search planes, ships, and underwater robots were deployed to conduct an aerial and surface search, across 700 square miles of terrain. Sonar buoys were added to the search efforts on Tuesday and picked up what appeared to be banging sounds coming from beneath the water. The banging sounds were detected every 30 minutes, according to a U.S. government memo, which reported that four hours later, the sounds could still be heard. CNN and Rolling Stone first reported the potential development

The memo was later updated, saying: “Additional acoustic feedback was heard and will assist in vectoring surface assets and also indicating continued hope of survivors.”

Yet hope to find the Titan is dwindling as the oxygen supply was projected to have run out just before 7:10 a.m. on Thursday, and Coast Guard Capt. Jamie Frederick said on Wednesday that the remaining oxygen was “a dialogue that’s happening,” but added it was not the only factor in the search.

Guillermo Sohnlein, the co-founder of OceanGate, said in a post on Facebook that Thursday would be “a critical day” in the search. He said he believed the crew realized they needed to relax “as much as possible,” which would extend the limits of the oxygen. “I firmly believe that the time window available for their rescue is longer than what most people think,” Sohnlein said.

As the search to explore the debris found on the ocean floor continues, reports have surfaced that OceanGate was warned about safety issues on board the Titan years before the ship disappeared. In 2018, David Lochridge, an employee at OceanGate, raised safety concerns with OceanGate management and government regulators, claiming the Titan’s design and protocol to test the hull’s reliability raised red flags.

Lochridge claimed in a wrongful termination lawsuit, saying he objected to OceanGate’s decision to test the hull’s capabilities without “non-destructive testing to prove its integrity.” The legal filing continued: “The paying passengers would not be aware, and would not be informed, of this experimental design, the lack of non-destructive testing of the hull, or that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.”

Among those reported to be on board the vessel was Sohnlein’s fellow OceanGate co-founder, Stockton Rush, who piloted the Titan submersible, and former French Navy Officer, Paul-Henry Nargeolet, who is considered to be an expert on the Titanic, having made numerous trips to the wreckage site. Shahzada Dawood, who is one of the board of directors for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and his son was also on board alongside Hamish Harding who journeyed to space on a Blue Origin rocket in June 2022.

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