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“Well, you're dead anyway.” This is what OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush is reported to have told a previous passenger who raised safety concerns about the Titan submersible.
The deep-sea vessel was on an expedition to the Titanic wreckage last month when it lost contact with OceanGate, a tour operatior, an hour and 45 minutes into the two-hour descent. After days of searching, wreckage was recovered from the ocean floor near the Titanic.
It had imploded, killing all five people on board including Rush himself, three Britons - Hamish Harding and father and son Shahzada and Suleman Dawood - and Frenchman Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
Since the tragedy, a number of accounts have emerged suggesting Rush dismissed concerns about safety.
On Thursday, Insider reported documentary cameraman Brian Weed’s account of going on a test dive in the Titan - not to the Titanic wreckage - in 2021.
Weed is said to have asked Rush what would happen in an emergency in which the Titan ascended back to the surface and wasn’t near its mothership (passengers were bolted inside).
He told the website that Rush said: “‘Well, there's four or five days of oxygen on board,’ and I said: 'What if they don't find you?' And he said: 'Well, you're dead anyway.’”
Reflecting on the exchange, Weed said: “It felt like a very strange thing to think, and it seemed to almost be a nihilistic attitude toward life or death out in the middle of the ocean.”
Here, Yahoo News UK lists further examples of things Rush said about safety, or is accused of saying.
'I've broken some rules to make this'
Rush certainly appeared to be driven by the desire to innovate.
Appearing at the GeekWire summit in October last year, he said: “If you’re not breaking things, you’re not innovating. If you’re operating within a known environment, as most submersible manufacturers do, they don’t break things.
“To me, the more stuff you’ve broken, the more innovative you’ve been.”
This is the context in which OceanGate built the world’s first carbon fibre human-occupied submersible. And it’s also the context in which we can look at his approach to safety.
For example, he told a YouTube channel (see video above) in August 2021 that he broke rules to build the Titan.
"I’d like to be remembered as an innovator. I think it was General MacArthur who said: ‘You are remembered for the rules you break.’
"And I've broken some rules to make this. I think I've broken them with logic and good engineering behind me. Carbon fibre and titanium? There's a rule you don't do that. Well, I did.
“It’s picking the rules you break that are the ones that will add to others and society.”
'At some point, safety is just pure waste'
In a November 2022 episode of his Unsung Science podcast, CBS journalist David Pogue interviewed Rush ahead of going on a Titan expedition to the wreckage.
In the podcast, Rush told him: “You know, at some point, safety is just pure waste. I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed, don’t get in your car, don’t do anything.
“At some point, you’re going to take some risk, and it really is a risk-reward question. I think I can do this just as safely by breaking the rules.”
Pogue also said he had signed a waiver before going on the dive which allegedly said: “The experimental submersible vessel has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body.” The form also warned the trip could result in death.
'Tired of safety argument stopping innovation'
The BBC reported how Rob McCallum, who acted as a consultant for OceanGate, raised concerns about Rush not seeking official certification from a marine organisation for the submersible - although this isn't mandatory.
In an email exchange between the two in 2018, the corporation reported McCallum appeared to criticise Rush for using "prototype un-classed technology in a very hostile place... 4,000m down in the mid-Atlantic is not the kind of place you can cut corners".
In response, Rush said he was "tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation" and that "safety was "about culture, not paperwork".
In another reference to innovation, Rush said: "I know that our engineering focused, innovative approach (as opposed to an existing standards compliance-focused design process) flies in the face of the submersible orthodoxy, but that is the nature of innovation."
McCallum said he was eventually threatened with legal action from OceanGate.
'Met with hostility' after identifying safety concerns
Court filings which emerged during last month's search for the vessel said a former OceanGate employee was "met with hostility" after raising concerns about the Titan's safety.
David Lochridge, OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, claimed in the August 2018 document he was wrongfully fired after flagging worries about the company’s alleged “refusal to conduct critical, non-destructive testing of the experimental design”.
After “issues of quality control” with the Titan were raised, the filings say Rush asked Lochridge to conduct a “quality inspection” report on the vessel.
During this process, Lochridge “identified numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns” but he was allegedly “met with hostility and denial of access” to necessary documents before later being fired.
The document claims he became concerned about a “lack of non-destructive testing performed on the hull of the Titan”, and that he “stressed the potential danger to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths”.
Rush was 'extremely committed to safety'
Two weeks ago, in the wake of the announcement that the Titan had imploded, Guillermo Sohnlein, co-founder of OceanGate, defended the safety of the submersible, saying he and Rush were "extremely committed to safety".
He told Times Radio: “He was also extremely diligent about managing risks, and was very keenly aware of the dangers of operating in a deep ocean environment. So that’s one of the main reasons I agreed to go into business with him in 2009.”
Sohnlein, who no longer worked for the company when he was speaking, continued: “I know from first-hand experience that we were extremely committed to safety and safety and risk mitigation was a key part of the company culture.”
He added on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Anyone who operates in that depth of the ocean, whether it is human-rated submersibles or robotic submersibles, knows the risks of operating under such pressure and that at any given moment, on any mission, with any vessel, you run the risk of this kind of implosion.”
OceanGate confirmed on Thursday it has stopped all operations. Yahoo has previously reached out to OceanGate for comment about safety concerns but not received a response.