Much like the Titanic, the captain of the Titan ignored the warnings

By Farrah Tomazin

OceanGate’s Titan submersible vehicle.

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David Lochridge was worried. It was January 2018 and the OceanGate Expeditions director had just completed a quality control report on an experimental vessel that would soon embark on its maiden voyage to the wreckage of the RMS Titanic.

The Titan, as the 6.7 metre vessel was called, was unlike anything the company had ever built: a carbon-fibre and titanium submersible that would take thrillseekers 4000 meters below the surface of the Atlantic to give them a rare glimpse of the world’s most famous shipwreck.

But Lochridge, whose job was to ensure the safety of the expedition’s passengers, believed the Titan posed potential “extreme danger” and needed immediate improvements before it could be launched.

OceanGate expeditions submersible, the Titan, in the North Atlantic. Credit: Instagram

For starters, he said, the submersible hadn’t been properly tested to very low water depths. The viewport – the section of the craft where passengers could look outside – was only built to a certified pressure of 1300 metres, which was far less than the depths the company was promising.

And there were flaws in the vessel’s carbon fibre design, which he feared could end up tearing during extreme pressure changes in the ocean.

But when Lochridge raised his concerns with OceanGate executives, including founder Stockton Rush, one of the five men who perished in the vessel this week, he claims he wasn’t just ignored. He was given about 10 minutes to clear his desk and leave.

“Rather than address his concerns or undergo corrective action to rectify and ensure the safety of the experimental Titan, or utilise a standard classification agency to inspect the Titan, OceanGate did the exact opposite,” his lawyers wrote in a lawsuit that was ultimately settled by the company. “They immediately fired Lochridge.”


Five years later, it is not known what kind of safety risks the Titan continued to pose when it embarked on its latest expedition last Sunday morning, only to disappear off the coast of Canada one hour and 45 minutes into its journey.

What is known, however, is that the five men on board were killed after the crushing pressure of the ocean abyss caused the vessel to implode – or collapse violently inward – as it made its descent.

A robotic vehicle deployed as part of the international search found a range of debris from the submersible on Thursday morning, including a tail cone discovered about 487 metres from the bow of the Titanic. The adventure of a lifetime had suddenly become a grim tragedy.

“The debris is consistent with a catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber,” US Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger explained at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

“Upon this determination, we immediately notified the families. I can only imagine what this has been like for them and I hope that this discovery provides some solace during this difficult time.”

US Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger announces the news of the implosion.Credit: AP

The latest mission was one of several that OceanGate has undertaken since it was christened by the company at a ceremony in Washington state in April 2018 – three months after Lochridge delivered the damning quality control report that he claims got him fired.

On the journey was Rush himself, the aerospace engineer who founded OceanGate in 2009 with a vision to “open the oceans” using crewed submersibles.

The 61-year-old was piloting the Titan when it lost contact with its command ship, the Polar Prince, approximately 900 nautical miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

OceanGate CEO and co-founder Stockton Rush.

Alongside him were four other passengers, all of whom were willing to sign waivers and pay the whopping $US250,000 ($373,400) fee for a coveted seat on a vessel so crammed that occupants are advised to control their diets before each journey to limit trips to the tiny bathroom inside.

And like Rush, all four passengers were adventurers in their own right. British businessman Hamish Harding held several Guinness World Records, including one for the longest time spent traversing the deepest part of the ocean on a single dive.

French maritime expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, was known as “Mr Titanic” because he had more than 35 dives to the shipwreck under his belt.

And joining them was Shahzada Dawood, a scion of one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families and a member of the advisory board for King Charles III’s charity, who was accompanied by his 19-year-old son Suleman.

“He wanted to explore the world and he wanted to go to places where very few people can go,” Dawood’s childhood friend Muhammad Hashim told NBC News this week.


To that end, The Titan’s ill-fated voyage is emblematic of a growing trend among thrill-seekers looking to push the boundaries of conventional travel.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic now provides space trips offering rich tourists the chance to experience a few minutes of zero gravity for a whopping $US450,000.

A trip to the South Pole will cost Antarctic enthusiasts just under $US100,000. And OceanGate’s Titanic expedition is at price point in between, offering privileged access to a part of Earth that few will ever see.

“Get ready for what Jules Vern could only imagine – a 12,500 foot journey to the bottom of the ocean!” the company’s promotional video declares. “This is not a thrill ride for tourists. It is much more…”

OceanGate is now one of several companies that cater to demand from individuals wanting to explore the wreck of the Titanic – the storied ship that hit an iceberg and sunk in the North Atlantic in 1912, killing more than 1500 of the 2200 passengers on board.

More than a century later, the ocean liner has spawned museums across the globe, social media fan clubs, and endless documentaries.

It was immortalised in James Cameron’s 1997 Hollywood blockbuster of the same name. The Wallace Hartley violin, famously played by the ship’s bandleader as it sank, sold at auction for $2 million. And no other ship has been more comprehensively documented, prompting some experts to question if ongoing expeditions are warranted.

“The Titanic is just another one of those frontiers for people who can afford to check the box and strike it off their bucket list. But it seems frivolous to me. What do they get really out of it except a cocktail conversation?” said maritime historian Paul Johnston, a curator at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“There are different types of names for this type of tourism – risk tourism, dark tourism, frontier tourism. And that’s because it’s dangerous, and we’re finding that out today.”


The risk was something that retired German businessman Arthur Loibl was willing to take when he signed up to take part in one of the Titan’s successful missions a few years ago. But looking back now, the 61-year-old adventurer admits the dive, which he did alongside the now deceased Rush and Nargeolet, felt a bit like a “kamikaze operation”.

The lights were turned off to conserve energy; there were problems with the battery and balancing weights; and the voyage ended up taking longer than planned. As for what it was like in the vessel?

“Imagine a metal tube a few meters long with a sheet of metal for a floor. You can’t stand. You can’t kneel. Everyone is sitting close to or on top of each other. You can’t be claustrophobic,” he told the Associated Press last week. “You have to be a little bit crazy to do this sort of thing.”

Chris Brown, a friend of Hamish Harding, didn’t want to take the same chance. He signed up for an OceanGate expedition in 2018 but ultimately opted out of the journey because he wasn’t convinced the company could conduct the mission safely.

Speaking on CNN this week, Brown explained that the payments for the trip were based on milestones, and OceanGate couldn’t meet them.

“Those milestones were based on depth and achievement, and they were constantly missing them,” he said.

“And we’re not talking about massive depths. When I eventually pulled out at the end of 2018 they hadn’t got below 300 metres. Bear in mind that the wreck is at 3800 metres.”

The Titan’s final journey ended much like the Titanic itself: painfully, tragically, catastrophically.Credit: Atlantic/Magellan via AP

“I also had some reservations with the way the submersible was being constructed, using construction piping for ballast. That’s the kind of thing you do when you need some rope to cross a river. It didn’t seem to be the sort of thing you’d be doing for a commercial craft repeatedly going down to great depths.”


Perhaps therein lies part of the tragedy. Just as the Titanic disaster of 1912 involved a captain who repeatedly ignored telegrams about icebergs ahead, the Titan disaster of 2023 involved a company pushing to achieve its ambitions despite the warnings of others.

The submersible was the brainchild of Rush, who founded OceanGate with social entrepreneur Guillermo Sohnlein in 2009 before taking full reigns as the chief executive four years later.

“This technology is what we need to explore the ocean depths,” he said as he launched the Titan publicly in 2018.

“We’re going to go to (depths of) 4000 meters … assuming all things pan out as we expect and we validate our engineering. And that will open up 50 per cent of the planet.”

But Rush’s plan was to go even further. OceanGate was already developing a new submarine called Cyclops 3, he told the crowd, which would go to depths of 6000 meters, meaning it could explore 98 percent of the planet’s oceans.

To achieve his vision, wealthy customers would be invited to document the Titanic wreck as “mission specialists” and fund the Titan’s exploration projects through their hefty ticket fees.

“The days of government funding are gone – it really needs to be a private enterprise just as it was with exploration at the turn of the century where people with means make the exploration possible,” he said.

But many in the industry were already starting to see red flags – not just in OceanGate’s business strategy but also in the Titan’s design.

The vessel wasn’t independently certified because OceanGate believed this would stifle innovation. It lacked basic emergency features like a location beacon to send its coordinates if something went wrong. It had doors bolted on from the outside, preventing people from escaping in a disaster even if they successfully surfaced.

And there had long been concerns that the carbon fibre used to construct the submersible would struggle to deal with the stress of repeated deep dives.

“Carbon fibre has been used in some vessels that go to much more shallow depths but this was really the first application of the technology to this kind of deep submergence vehicle,” said Bryan Clark, a former submariner who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“I think exploring the Titanic could be a great thing, as long as you do it with vehicles that make sense. What they tried to do is cut corners to make it more likely to be profitable and it clearly didn’t work out.”

The Titan was bold, ambitious, and innovative – just as Rush had hoped. But five days after the experimental submersible disappeared in the North Atlantic, its final journey has now ended much like the Titanic itself: painfully, tragically, catastrophically.

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