OceanGate Was Warned of Potential for ‘Catastrophic’ Problems With Titanic Mission


Experts inside and outside the company warned of potential dangers and urged the company to undergo a certification process. OceanGate


TiThis undated image, courtesy of OceanGate Expeditions, shows their Titan submersible launching from a platform.Credit...OceanGate Expeditions/Agence France-Presse — Getty Imagestan

Years before OceanGate’s submersible craft went missing in the Atlantic Ocean with five people onboard, the company faced several warnings as it prepared for its hallmark mission of taking wealthy passengers to tour the Titanic’s wreckage.

It was January 2018, and the company’s engineering team was about to hand over the craft — named Titan — to a new crew who would be responsible for ensuring the safety of its future passengers. But experts inside and outside the company were beginning to sound alarms.

OceanGate’s director of marine operations, David Lochridge, started working on a report around that time, according to court documents, ultimately producing a scathing document in which he said the craft needed more testing and stressed “the potential dangers to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths.”

Two months later, OceanGate faced similarly dire calls from more than three dozen people — industry leaders, deep-sea explorers and oceanographers — who warned in a letter to its chief executive, Stockton Rush, that the company’s “experimental” approach and its decision to forgo a traditional assessment could lead to potentially “catastrophic” problems with the Titanic mission.

Now, as the international search for the craft enters another day, more is coming to light about the warnings leveled at OceanGate as the company raced to provide extreme tourism for the wealthy.

A spokesman for OceanGate declined to comment on the five-year-old critiques from Mr. Lochridge and the industry leaders. Nor did Mr. Lochridge respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Rush, the company’s chief executive, is one of the passengers on the vessel and was serving as its pilot when it went missing on Sunday, the company said on Tuesday.

An aerospace engineer and pilot, he founded the company, based in Everett, Wash., in 2009. For the past three years, he has charged up to $250,000 per person for a chance to visit the wreckage of the Titanic, which sank in 1912 on its inaugural trip from England to New York.

The critiques from Mr. Lochridge and the experts who signed the 2018 letter to Mr. Rush were focused in part on what they characterized as Mr. Rush’s refusal to have the Titan inspected and certified by one of the leading agencies that do such work.

Mr. Lochridge reported in court records that he had urged the company to do so, but that he had been told that OceanGate was “unwilling to pay” for such an assessment. After getting Mr. Lochridge’s report, the company’s leaders held a tense meeting to discuss the situation, according to court documents filed by both sides. The documents came in a lawsuit that OceanGate filed against Mr. Lochridge in 2018, accusing him of sharing confidential information outside the company.

In the documents, Mr. Lochridge reported learning that the viewport that lets passengers see outside the craft was only certified to work in depths of up to 1,300 meters.

That is far less than would be necessary for trips to the Titanic, which is nearly 4,000 meters below the ocean’s surface.

“The paying passengers would not be aware, and would not be informed, of this experimental design,” lawyers for Mr. Lochridge wrote in a court filing.

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