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List of Past Mishaps Aboard Lost Sub Titan Continues to Grow

titan
Courtesy OceanGate

Published Jul 5, 2023 11:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

As U.S. Coast Guard investigators begin a top-to-bottom probe of the loss of the Titan submersible last month, evidence of past problems with the experimental sub continue to come to light. In the most recent revelation, the BBC has resurfaced documentary footage from a trip in 2022, when one of its reporters took a dive to the Titanic wreck site with OceanGate Expeditions. The video shows that the pilot of the submersible lost control of the thrusters, and the minisub began to spin. 

"There’s something wrong with my thrusters," pilot Scott Griffith can be heard saying. The sub's thrusters had been mounted improperly, and one was pointing in the wrong direction. This caused Titan to spin in circles when thrust was applied. The sub was forced to wait on the bottom for hours while co-founder and CEO Stockton Rush - who was standing by on the support vessel on the surface - personally worked on troubleshooting the issue. 

"I was thinking, we're not going to make it," passenger Reneta Rojas told the BBC. 

The solution came after a few hours: Griffith would just have to reprogram the off-the-shelf wireless game controller that Rush had chosen to use as the sub's primary navigation interface. The adjustment worked, and the sub and its passengers proceeded to view the Titanic wreck site. 

An engineering advisor, deep-dive submersible expert Rob McCallum, told the New Yorker that he ended his ties with OceanGate in 2018 over safety concerns. He did not approve of the level of redundancy in the design, and he warned that "there were multiple points of failure" - like the wireless controller. He raised these concerns with Rush, but was rebuffed. 

"I have grown tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation and new entrants from entering their small existing market. Since Guillermo [Söhnlein] and I started OceanGate we have heard the baseless cries of ‘you are going to kill someone’ way too often," Rush said in an emailed response. 

Rush also fired chief pilot and operations director David Lochridge after Lochridge raised similar concerns, including what he described as "very visible signs of delamination and porosity" in the carbon-fiber pressure hull.

Rush asked the firm's finance director to take over as chief sub pilot after he fired Lochridge, the director told the New Yorker. “It freaked me out that [Rush] would want me to be head pilot, since my background is in accounting,” the finance director said. 

Rush piloted the submersible himself on its final dive, and he was among the five victims.