Today we learned that the five men who were on the Titan, a submersible craft that was on its way to the wreck of the Titanic, are dead after the Titan imploded under the tremendous pressures in the ocean depths.
The good news is that the five men must have been killed instantly. I and countless others had been having waking nightmares about their slow death from lack of oxygen as they sat on the ocean floor 12,500 feet from the surface.
Now it appears that the submersible imploded at the same time its mother ship lost contact with the Titan, about an hour and forty-five minutes into its two and half hour descent to the Titanic. So there must have been some kind of structural failure that led to the Titan breaking into pieces and creating a large debris field near the wreckage of the Titanic.
The United States Navy is reporting that secret Navy sensors detected the implosion at about the time communication with the Titan was lost.
The U.S. Navy, using data from a secret network of underwater sensors designed to track hostile submarines, detected “an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion” in the vicinity of the Titan submersible at the time communications with the vessel were lost on Sunday, two senior Navy officials said on Thursday.
But with no other indications of a catastrophe, one of the officials said, the search was continued.
The data from the sensors was combined with information from airborne Navy P-8 surveillance planes and sonar buoys on the surface to triangulate the approximate location of the Titan, one of the officials said. The analysis of undersea acoustic data and information about the location of the noise were then passed on to the Coast Guard official in charge of the search, Rear Adm. John Mauger.
We shouldn't view this catastrophe as akin to climbers being killed on Mt. Everest or people dying in the course of undertaking some other dangerous activity. That way of looking at it ignores the important differences with the submersible disaster.
For one thing, it's a big stretch for OceanGate, the company that owned and operated the Titan, to call those on the submersible "mission specialists." Though several had extensive experience with deep sea dives, including the CEO and co-founder of OceanGate, Stockton Rush, who was the pilot of the submersible, two were simply tourists who paid $250,000 each to take the trip.
It pains me to see their photo. The father and son must have viewed this as the biggest adventure of their lifetime. Instead it turned out to be the last thing they'd ever do in life: die almost instantly as the Titan burst apart.
Shahzada and Suleman Dawood surely recognized that the descent to the Titanic was risky. But probably they weren't aware that OceanGate and Stockton Rush had constructed the Titan without going through usual procedures for testing and certifying a submersible of this sort.
A CNN story describes the unnecessary risk-taking with the lives of paying passengers.
The focus on the vessel has renewed criticisms of OceanGate’s approach to safety from employees and other industry leaders. The 23,000-pound deep-sea vessel was made of an experimental combination of carbon fiber and titanium and relied on decidedly low-tech parts, such as a video game controller.
...The implosion of the Titan and deaths of those on board has put its operator’s safety procedures under the microscope.
Rush, the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, told a Mexican travel blogger in 2021 he wanted to be known as an innovator who broke the rules.
“I think it was (US Army) Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur who said, ‘You’re remembered for the rules you break,’” Rush told Alan Estrada, who documented his trip to the Titanic, including an aborted attempt in July 2021 before a successful visit in 2022.
“And you know,” Rush added, “I’ve broken some rules to make this.”
At least two former OceanGate employees years ago expressed safety concerns about the vessel’s hull, including the thickness of the material used and testing procedures, CNN has learned.
OceanGate Expeditions strayed from industry norms by declining a voluntary, rigorous safety review of the vessel, according to an industry leader. If the company had pursued a certification review “some of this may have been avoided,” Will Kohnen of the Marine Technology Society told CNN on Wednesday.
The company also faced a series of mechanical problems and inclement weather conditions that forced the cancellation or delays of trips in recent years, according to court records. The scuttled excursions led to a pair of lawsuits in which some high-paying customers sought to recoup the cost of trips they said they didn’t take. The complaints alleged that the company overstated its ability to reach the Titanic wreckage.
OceanGate did not respond to the claims in court and could not be reached for comment.
Some expeditions were delayed after OceanGate was forced to rebuild the Titan’s hull because it showed “cyclic fatigue” and wouldn’t be able to travel deep enough to reach the Titanic’s wreckage, according to a 2020 article by GeekWire, which interviewed the company’s CEO.
Several reporters who boarded the Titan noted some of these issues.
For one, Discovery Channel’s “Expedition Unknown” host Josh Gates and his team decided after a 2021 test dive of the Titan against filming a segment on the vessel as it “became clear to us at that time that there was a lot that needed to be worked out with the sub,” he said.
A lot of the systems worked but a lot of them really didn’t. We had issues with thrusters and issues with computer control and things like that. Ultimately, it was a challenging dive,” Gates told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday.
“We were inside Titan for two or three hours, and there were a lot of things that weren’t really ready for prime time, it seemed,” he said.
If Stockton Rush, the OceanGate CEO who was so proud of breaking rules when it came to deep sea exploration, had been the only person to die in the submersible that almost certainly imploded because of design/construction rule-breaking, we could say that he died as he lived -- taking risks.
But Rush's rule-breaking caused four other people to die with him also. And that should tarnish Rush's legacy big time. If a climber on Mt. Everest falls to their death after attempting an unnecessarily risky climbing move, fine, they died doing what they loved. But if that risky move causes four other people roped to them to die also, then the climber deserves a huge amount of criticism.
Hopefully this tragedy will lead to greater regulation of submersibles, especially those being used to take paying customers to ocean depths. Those who say that government regulation isn't necessary are dead wrong.
In this case, five deaths wrong.