David Lochridge who previously worked as the director of OceanGate Expeditions had doubts about the processes that his company was taking. He concluded a meticulous quality control report on the revolutionary vessel known as the Titan, destined for its inaugural expedition to the RMS Titanic wreckage, Lochridge’s concerns about potential safety hazards intensified.
The Titan, which would be a “groundbreaking” 6.7-meter submersible crafted from carbon fiber and titanium, aimed to transport thrillseekers to the depths of the Atlantic, offering them a rare glimpse of the world’s most renowned shipwreck.
However, Lochridge, entrusted with the passengers’ safety, identified what he believed to be “extreme danger” associated with the Titan and urgently called for improvements before its launch.
Lochridge pointed out that the submersible had not undergone adequate testing in deep waters.
The viewport, which allowed passengers to observe the outside environment, possessed a certified pressure rating of only 1300 meters, falling short of the depths promised by the company.
Additionally, he expressed concerns about flaws in the carbon-fiber design, fearing that it might succumb to the intense pressure changes experienced in the ocean’s depths.
Regrettably, when Lochridge raised these apprehensions to OceanGate executives, including the company’s founder, Stockton Rush—who, tragically, perished in the recent submersible accident—he claims to have been not only ignored but swiftly terminated, given a mere ten minutes to clear his desk and leave.
In a lawsuit ultimately resolved through settlement, Lochridge’s lawyers stated, “Rather than address his concerns or undergo corrective action to rectify and ensure the safety of the experimental Titan, or utilize a standard classification agency to inspect the Titan, OceanGate did the exact opposite.”
Now, five years later, the safety risks posed by the Titan during its most recent expedition remain unclear, as it vanished off the Canadian coast a mere hour and 45 minutes into its journey. The crushing pressures of the ocean abyss led to the submersible’s implosion—a violent inward collapse—resulting in the tragic loss of all five individuals aboard.
Subsequent search efforts, employing a robotic vehicle, uncovered debris from the ill-fated submersible, including a tail cone discovered approximately 487 meters from the Titanic’s bow.
What had promised to be the adventure of a lifetime transformed into a grim tragedy.
What the Titan Disaster signifies
The recovery of submersible wreckage and subsequent analysis highlighted a catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber due to the immense pressures encountered during the descent.
Rear Admiral John Mauger of the US Coast Guard announced during a press conference that this determination prompted immediate notification of the families affected.
One can only imagine the profound anguish experienced by these families, and it is hoped that this discovery provides them some solace in this trying time.
The most recent expedition formed a part of OceanGate’s ongoing series of missions since the submersible’s official christening in Washington state, in April 2018—three months after Lochridge submitted his damning quality control report, which he alleges led to his termination.
Onboard the Titan, piloted by Rush himself, were four other adventurous individuals who willingly signed waivers and paid the substantial fee of $US250,000 for the privilege of occupying a seat within the cramped vessel.
Such tight quarters necessitated occupants to regulate their diets before embarking, reducing their need for the vessel’s modest lavatory.
Each of these four passengers possessed their own remarkable background. British businessman Hamish Harding held numerous Guinness World Records, including one for the longest time spent traversing the ocean’s deepest region during a single dive. French maritime expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet,
known as “Mr. Titanic,” boasted over 35 dives to the renowned shipwreck.
Accompanying them was Shahzada Dawood, scion of one of Pakistan’s most affluent families, and a member of the advisory board for Prince’s Trust, a charity associated with King Charles III, accompanied by his 19-year-old son, Suleman.
Dawood’s childhood friend, Muhammad Hashim, shared with NBC News that Dawood’s desire to explore remote corners of the globe drove his participation in this fateful journey.
Risk Tourism: Pushing Boundaries and Chasing Thrills
The Titan’s ill-fated voyage epitomizes a burgeoning trend among thrill-seekers who yearn to transcend conventional travel experiences.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, for instance, now offers space trips catering to affluent tourists willing to pay a staggering $US450,000 for a few minutes of zero gravity.
Similarly, those with a passion for Antarctica can partake in an expedition to the South Pole for just under $US100,000. OceanGate’s Titanic expedition falls within this spectrum, granting privileged access to a part of our planet that few will ever witness.
OceanGate represents one of several companies capitalizing on the demand from individuals seeking to explore the wreckage of the Titanic—a historic ship that sank in the North Atlantic in 1912, claiming the lives of over 1500 of its 2200 passengers.
A century later, the ocean liner has inspired museums worldwide, social media fan clubs, and countless documentaries.
It became immortalized through James Cameron’s 1997 Hollywood blockbuster, and artifacts such as the Wallace Hartley violin, famously played by the ship’s bandleader during its sinking, fetched over $US1.7 million at auction.
Given the extensive documentation surrounding the ship, some experts question the necessity of ongoing expeditions.
Maritime historian Paul Johnston, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, remarks, “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 really get out of it except a cocktail conversation?”
Johnston believes that this type of tourism falls under different categories such as risk tourism, dark tourism, or frontier tourism, primarily due to its inherent dangers, which have been tragically underscored in recent events.
Reflections on Risk and Safety
Arthur Loibl, a retired German businessman, dared to undertake a Titan expedition a few years ago.
Recollecting the experience, Loibl now admits that the dive, conducted alongside the late Rush and Nargeolet, felt akin to a “kamikaze operation.”
The submersible’s lights were extinguished to conserve energy, and problems arose with the battery and balancing weights, causing the voyage to last longer than planned.
Describing the vessel’s interior, Loibl paints a vivid picture: “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. You have to be a little bit crazy to do this sort of thing.”
Chris Brown, a friend of Hamish Harding, initially signed up for an OceanGate expedition in 2018 but ultimately withdrew his participation due to concerns about the company’s ability to ensure the mission’s safety.
Speaking on CNN, Brown revealed that the payment structure for the trip was based on specific milestones, none of which OceanGate managed to achieve.
He explains, “Those milestones were based on depth and achievement, and they were constantly missing them. When I eventually pulled out at the end of 2018, they hadn’t got below 300 meters. Bear in mind that the wreck is at 3800 meters.”
Furthermore, Brown had reservations about the submersible’s construction, particularly the use of construction piping for ballast.
He questioned the appropriateness of such a makeshift solution for a commercial vessel repeatedly descending to significant depths.
These long-standing concerns, voiced by Lochridge years earlier, now take on a haunting significance.
Greed or just plain old “Ambition”?
Parallels can be drawn between the Titanic disaster of 1912 and the Titan tragedy of 2023—both instances involve the repeated dismissal of warnings that ultimately led to catastrophe.
Just as telegrams about icebergs ahead were ignored over a century ago, OceanGate forged ahead with its ambitions despite the cautionary advice of others.
The submersible was the brainchild of Rush, who founded OceanGate in 2009 alongside social entrepreneur Guillermo Sohnlein before assuming the role of CEO four years later.
During the Titan’s public unveiling in 2018, Rush declared, “This technology is what we need to explore the ocean depths. 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 percent of the planet.”
Rush’s vision extended even further.
OceanGate was already developing Cyclops 3, a new submarine that aimed to reach depths of 6000 meters, allowing exploration of 98 percent of the world’s oceans.
To achieve this vision, wealthy customers were invited to join as “mission specialists,” documenting the Titanic wreck and funding OceanGate’s exploration projects through their hefty ticket fees.
Rush emphasized the need for private enterprises to fund exploration, stating, “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.”
However, many within the industry began to notice red flags, not only in OceanGate’s business strategy but also in the design of the Titan itself.
The submersible lacked independent certification, with OceanGate believing that seeking such certification would stifle innovation. Basic emergency features were also absent, such as a location beacon to transmit coordinates in case of an emergency.
Furthermore, the doors were bolted from the outside, preventing escape in the event of a disaster, even if the vessel successfully surfaced.
Concerns about the carbon fiber used in the submersible’s construction had long been raised.
While carbon fiber had been employed in vessels operating at shallower depths, the Titan represented the first application of this technology in a deep submersible.
Former submariner Bryan Clark, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, expresses his reservations, saying, “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 embodied boldness, ambition, and innovation—just as Rush had envisioned.
However, five days after the experimental submersible vanished in the North Atlantic, its final voyage concluded with a heartbreaking similarity to the Titanic itself: painfully, tragically, and catastrophically.