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CEO of Titanic sub joked ‘what could go wrong’ before disaster, new documentary reveals

Stockton Rush made remark in interview with Canadian radio station before doomed June 2023 mission that left five dead

Martha McHardy
Wednesday 06 March 2024 18:12 GMT
Stockton Rush appears to boast about 'bending rules' to construct Titanic tourist sub

The CEO of the company that launched the doomed Titan submersible trip to the wreckage of the Titanic joked “What could go wrong?” just weeks before the disaster, a new documentary has revealed.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush made the chilling remark during an interview with St John’s Radio in Canada just a few weeks before one of his submarines imploded in the ocean in June 2023.

The accident killed Rush, along with French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, British billionaire Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his teenage son Suleman Dawood.

His fateful comment is included in a new Channel 5 documentary about the disaster. During the interview, he could also be heard saying he had chosen to do the expedition in June because it was when the waters around the wreck of the Titanic were the “calmest”.

“So with the Polar Prince [the vessel that carried the submarine out to sea], that ice capability we thought, let’s move the mission a little earlier this year,” he said. “We specifically designed the submersible for this mission.”

Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate (OceanGate)

These were not the only disturbing remarks Mr Rush made before his death.

In a 2021 interview, which resurfaced after the disaster, the OceanGate CEO was also recorded boasting about “bending the rules” when constructing the Titanic tourist submersible.

“I have broken some rules to make this. The carbon fibre and titanium... there is a rule that you don’t do that. Well, I did,’“ he said.

Meanwhile, in an episode of BBC’s The Travel Show in 2022, Mr Rush dismissed concerns about a “really loud bang” during a previous dive on the Titan sub.

He said the noise was “not a soothing sound” but downplayed the danger, adding that “almost every deep-sea sub makes a noise at some point.”

In the weeks after the death of the five passengers, former OceanGate employees and industry experts said they repeatedly raised concerns about the Titan’s construction and its safety before it imploded, with whistleblowers claiming that the sub’s “experimental” carbon-fibre hull wasn’t suitable for extreme depths in deep-sea exploration. It was also claimed that glue had leaked from the seams of ballast bags.

From left to right: Stockton Rush, Hamish Harding, Paul-Henri Nargeolet and Shahzada and Suleman Dawood ((Reuters/Jannicke Mikkelsen/OceanGate Expeditions/Getty))

While it is still unclear what happened in the moments leading up to the implosion, the Channel 5 documentary Minute by Minute: The Titan Sub Disaster details the events leading up to the disaster.

The documentary’s creators interviewed experts who claimed the final moments of the passengers on board the submarine would have been “absolutely torturous.”

“The focus of both Stockton and PH would’ve been trying to gain some control of the submersible, trying to recover some height and getting the vessel stable and back to the surface,” said Dik Barton, the former vice president of RMS Titanic Inc., a company that owns around 5,500 relics from the Titanic.

“That would’ve been their total and utter focus. The fear that would generate, I can’t even comprehend. The last little while, I think would’ve been absolutely torturous.”

The vessel imploded on 20 June 2023 after losing contact with the surface ship around an hour and 45 minutes into the voyage 900 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

A desperate four-day search-and-rescue mission was carried out to determine whether the sub and its five-man crew had survived.

There was a glimmer of hope as Canadian aircraft searching for the missing sub detected intermittent banging noises from the vicinity where it was last located.

This undated image provided by OceanGate Expeditions in June 2021 shows the company's Titan submersible. OceanGate, the company that owned the submersible that fatally imploded on its way to explore the wreck of the Titanic said Thursday, July 6, 2023 it has suspended operations (OceanGate Expeditions)

But the rescue mission ended in tragedy, with the US Coast Guard determining that the five crew members had died in a “catastrophic implosion” caused by enormous water pressure bearing down on the vessel.

On 28 June, officials confirmed that debris from the vessel and “presumed human remains” had been recovered from the sea floor.

Rear Admiral John Mauger later said there did not appear to be a connection between the underwater noises detected during the search-and-rescue mission and the location of the debris on the seafloor.

“This was a catastrophic implosion of the vessel, which would have generated a significant broadband sound down there that the sonar buoys would have picked up,” Mauger said.

The US Coast Guard warned that the bodies of the five passengers may never be recovered.

OceanGate has since ceased operations.

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