Vanity Fair revisits the many warning signs about OceanGate’s Titan submersible prior to an implosion on June 18th that killed all five passengers onboard.
A professional expedition leader tells their reporter that “This tragedy was predicted. It was avoidable. It was inevitable.”
As the world now knows, Stockton Rush touted himself as a maverick, a disrupter, a breaker of rules. So far out on the visionary curve that, for him, safety regulations were mere suggestions. “If you’re not breaking things, you’re not innovating,” he declared at the 2022 GeekWire Summit. “If you’re operating within a known environment, as most submersible manufacturers do, they don’t break things. To me, the more stuff you’ve broken, the more innovative you’ve been.” In a culture that has adopted the ridiculous mantra “move fast and break things,” that type of arrogance can get a person far. But in the deep ocean, the price of admission is humility — and it’s nonnegotiable…
In December 2015, two years before the Titan was built, Rush had lowered a one third scale model of his 4,000-meter-sub-to-be into a pressure chamber and watched it implode at 4,000 psi, a pressure equivalent to only 2,740 meters. The test’s stated goal was to “validate that the pressure vessel design is capable of withstanding an external pressure of 6,000 psi — corresponding to…a depth of about 4,200 meters.” He might have changed course then, stood back for a moment and reconsidered. But he didn’t. Instead, OceanGate issued a press release stating that the test had been a resounding success because it “demonstrates that the benefits of carbon fiber are real.”
OceanGate’s director of marine operations later issued a Quality Control Inspection Report filled with warnings:
These included missing bolts and improperly secured batteries, components zip-tied to the outside of the sub. O-ring grooves were machined incorrectly (which could allow water ingress), seals were loose, a highly flammable, petroleum-based material lined the Titan‘s interior… Yet even those deficiencies paled in comparison to what Lochridge observed on the hull. The carbon fiber filament was visibly coming apart, riddled with air gaps, delaminations, and Swiss cheese holes — and there was no way to fix that short of tossing the hull in a dumpster…
Rush’s response was to fire Lochridge immediately, serve him and his wife with a lawsuit (although Carole Lochridge didn’t work at OceanGate or even in the submersible industry) for breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets; threaten their immigration status; and seek to have them pay OceanGate’s legal fees.
The article also tells a story about OceanGate’s 240-foot dive to the wreck of the Andrea Doria in 2016. The article claims that Rush disregarded safety instructions, then “landed too close, got tangled in the current, managed to wedge the sub beneath the Andrea Doria’s crumbling bow, and descended into a full-blown panic…”
The article’s author marvels that five years ago, “I didn’t yet know how reckless, how heedless, how insane the Titan was.” They’d once even considered booking a trip on the OceanGate’s submersible — until receiving this advice from the chief pilot of the University of Hawaii’s two deep-sea submarines. “Do not get into that sub. He is going to have a major accident.”
Thanks to Slashdot reader AleRunner for sharing the article.