The OceanGate Saga Has Come to a Tragic End
U.S. officials located debris of the missing submersible on Thursday, and the wreckage indicated signs of a “catastrophic implosion”
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The race to save five passengers aboard the OceanGate submersible Titan came to a sad end on Thursday afternoon.
Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard announced that searchers had found debris from the missing craft on the ocean floor, approximately 1,600 feet from the wreckage of the Titanic. Among the parts was the Titan’s nose and tail cones.
“The debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion on the vessel,” said Rear Admiral John Mauger. “On behalf of the United States Coast Guard and the entire unified command, I offer my deepest condolences to the families.”
The depth of the debris—it was located at approximately 12,500 feet below the surface—make it virtually impossible for any of the five passengers to have survived the incident, officials said. At the time of the sub’s disappearance, it was being piloted by Stockton Rush, the CEO and founder of OceanGate, which is based in the Seattle suburb of Everett, Washington. Also aboard were British aviation billionaire Hamish Harding; British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son, Suleman; and French maritime explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
The announcement ends a massive four-day search for the missing vessel, an endeavor that roped in more than a dozen ships and multiple aircraft from various U.S. government agencies, as well as boats from Canada, France, and the UK.
The discovery occurred early Thursday morning. A remote-operated vehicle from a U.S. ship named Horizon Arctic found the nose cone first before locating four other pieces of the Titan in a large debris field on the ocean floor. Mauger said images of the pieces were the analyzed by undersea experts working with the search and rescue team Paul Hankins, a salvage expert with the U.S. Navy, said the robot later located a second smaller debris field, where other parts of the sub were located, including the tail cone. The fields, he said, were a sign of a “catastrophic event.”
According to Carl Hartsfield, an expert with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the vessel did not collide with pieces of the Titanic. The arrangement of the debris, he said, was a sign of an “implosion in the water column.”
The Titan was on its third expedition to the Titanic on Sunday when it went missing, having completed similar visits to the wreck in 2021 and 2022. OceanGate hoped to develop a tourism business to take passengers down to see the wreck, and the company was charging $250,00 per person to ride on the submersible. In 2022, writer Alexandra Gillespie interviewed Rush for Outside. The CEO told her he hoped to create a business for adventure travelers “who want to do something different than just sit and then get a tourist experience.”
Rush received ample criticism for his boat. and in 2018 a nautical-industry group wrote OceanGate a letter stressing the firm to have its craft analyzed and regulated by international-vessel firm Det Norske Veritas, which is based in Oslo, Norway, and conducts safety testing on new boat designs. According to The New York Times, Rush shrugged off the request and told one of the letter writers that protocols stifled innovation. Also in 2018, a former OceanGate staffer filed a wrongful termination suit against the firm, alleging he was let go for raising red flags about the safety of the carbon-fiber hull and the monitoring system used to measure its strength at extreme depths.
In 2019, OceanGate published a blog pushing back on critics, arguing that its futuristic design could not be adequately measured by industry standards. “By definition, innovation is outside of an already accepted system,” the post reads. “Innovation often falls outside of the existing industry paradigm.”
At Thursday’s press conference, reporters asked Mauger if rescuers had any plans to recover the bodies of Rush and the four others.
“This is an incredibly unforgiving environment,” he said. “We will continue searching the area down there.”