A French robot that can dive deeper than any other ship is the “last chance” to rescue a tourist submersible that went missing while diving to the Titanic on Sunday – with the five passengers on board having just hours of oxygen left .
Dubbed the Victor 6,000, the remote-controlled robot can dive to depths of 20,000 feet — almost twice that of the lost OceanGate Titan — and has arms that allow it to cut cables or perform other maneuvers to free a stuck ship.
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There was speculation that the submarine could become stuck under one of the RMS Titanic’s huge propellers.
If the vehicle does find the submarine, the four-and-a-half-ton robot won’t be able to help bring it back to the surface – but could help connect the damaged vessel to a cable from the surface.
“Victor is capable of visual reconnaissance with all his video equipment,” said Olivier Lefort, head of naval operations at Ifremer, the French national marine research institute that operates the robot.
“It’s also equipped with manipulation arms that can be used to pull the submarine out, for example by cutting cables or things that would block it on the ground.”
Victor 6000 is operated by a crew of 25 aboard the French ship Atalante, which arrived in the search area late Wednesday evening – leaving little time for the search before Titan ran out of oxygen.
“We can work nonstop for up to 72 hours, we don’t have to stop at night,” Mr Lefort said.
Victor 6000 is powered by Atalante via an 8 km cable, so it too can search non-stop. However, the robot moves at just over 1 km/h, which limits the search distance in the remaining time.
The robot, which cost a million francs (£130,000) to build in 1999, looks little more than an eight-by-ten cube – but many believe it holds the last hope of saving those stranded in Titan.
One of those allegedly on board, French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, previously worked at Ifremer and piloted its flagship submarine, the Nautile, which was used to survey the Titanic wreck.
Ifremer sent the Atalante ship with his robot at the request of the US Navy.
“That’s the logic of the sailors.” “Our attitude was: We’re close, we have to go,” Lefort said.
The people carrier-sized submersible Titan, operated by OceanGate Expeditions, began its descent at 1pm BST on Sunday. Towards the end of what should have been a two-hour dive to the site of the world’s most famous shipwreck in a remote corner of the North Atlantic, it lost contact with its surface support vessel.
However, the operators only sounded the alarm when the submersible failed to show up about nine hours later.
According to the company, the Titan took off with 96 hours of air, meaning her oxygen tanks would likely run out sometime Thursday morning. How long the air would actually hold depended on a variety of factors, experts said, including whether the submersible had power and how quiet it was on board.
Hopes were raised yesterday when “popping noises” were heard underwater.
The international rescue operation continues.
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