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New study could finally reveal real reason behind fatal Titan sub implosion

New study could finally reveal real reason behind fatal Titan sub implosion

Experts have hypothesized why the 2023 trip ended in disaster.

In June last year, five people tragically lost their lives on the Titan submersible.

The deep-sea vessel (owned by OceanGate) was on an expedition to the Titanic wreckage when it lost contact with people above ground, later reported missing.

The wreckage was recovered from the ocean floor days later, confirming all five people on board - British adventurer Hamish Harding and father and son Shahzada and Suleman Dawood died alongside OceanGate Expeditions’ chief executive Stockton Rush and Frenchman Paul-Henri Nargeolet - were dead.

JASON REDMOND / Contributor / Getty
JASON REDMOND / Contributor / Getty

Nearly a year later, researchers from the University of Houston have used a new paper as a jumping-off point to theorize why the submersible imploded.

The paper looks into how thin-walled vessels can buckle when they contain geometric imperfections.

They said it had previously been impossible to predict how catastrophic geometric imperfections could actually be - until now. Using complicated theoretical equations and computer simulations, they've worked out how to predict the average buckling strength of a shell.

"We derived equations that allow us to predict the resistance to buckling of structures in terms of the parameters that are involved including the shapes and distribution of their imperfections,” said co-author of the study, professor and civil engineer Roberto Ballarini.

“Given the parameters that describe the imperfections, the equations we constructed using the results of the simulations 'spit out' the average buckling resistance of the structures.”

He added that the strength and stiffness of the shell makes a huge difference - particularly citing the example of the Titan submersible.

"Its integrity may have been compromised by the damage to the material used for its hull that accumulated during the many trips it took prior to collapse," Ballarini hypothesized.

Xavier DESMIER / Contributor / Getty
Xavier DESMIER / Contributor / Getty

"The material used for the Titan’s hull was a carbon fiber composite. It is well known that under compression loading the fibers in such composites are susceptible to micro-buckling and that they may delaminate from the matrix that surrounds them.

"If the Titan’s hull experienced such damage under the extreme compressive pressures it experienced during its dives, then its stiffness and strength would have significantly decreased, and together with the inevitable geometric imperfections introduced during its manufacturing, may have contributed to its buckling-induced implosion."

It's an interesting insight into why the Titan might have been more susceptible to imploding - leading to the catastrophic outcome of the venture - but was not directly included in the paper. Instead, it is an example of a thin-walled structure that helps illustrate the science behind the researchers' work.

Featured Image Credit: Boston Globe / Contributor / Getty / OceanGate/Becky Kagan Schott