After the mission turned from rescue to recovery following the grisly discovery that the missing Titan submersible imploded, institutions cited as partners in its manufacture distanced themselves from claims of their involvement in the ill-fated vessel’s design.
In statements, Boeing, NASA, and the University of Washington clarified their roles in the development and testing of the Titan watercraft built and billed by OceanGate Inc. as a safe, seaworthy vehicle that would provide an unmatched, once-in-a-lifetime experience for passengers at $250,000 a pop ‒ even as the OceanGate CEO conceded some rules had been broken to speed the innovative submersible’s debut.
Officials determined a “catastrophic implosion” killed the five people aboard the Titan vessel after starting its dive to view the Titanic wreckage site. The U.S. Navy analyzed its acoustic data and found an anomaly consistent with an implosion near where the submersible was operating when communications were lost June 18, Coast Guard spokesperson Briana Carter confirmed to USA TODAY. The information was shared immediately with the search commander.
Here’s the latest on the search and recovery efforts and the high-stakes finger-pointing after a tragic mission gone wrong.
Critiques about ‘experimental’ carbon fiber used to construct The Titan continue to surface, OceanGate website down on Friday
On Friday, several experts critiqued OceanGate’s use of experimental materials like carbon fiber on a submersible they invited passengers to board when they knew of potential risks.
Bart Kemper, a principal engineer at Kemper Engineering Services, told NBC News the carbon fiber that was used to create The Titan is not guaranteed to withstand the pressures of the deep sea.
“It’s a design that’s not been used in this way at this depth. All it has to do is fail in one spot and game over,” Kemper told the news outlet.
According to OceanGate’s website, which was down Friday afternoon, the company constructed The Titan with titanium and filament-wound carbon fiber.
“There are a number of reasons why it could have imploded,” said Aileen Maria Marty, an expert in infectious disease and disaster medicine, adding that there are other safe subs that use regulated materials. “One is simply a problem with the carbon filaments.”
Questions were swirling Friday about whether OceanGate may have over-hyped its ties to NASA, Boeing, and the University of Washington in developing the Titan submersible.
According to archived webpages, OceanGate Expeditions wrote on its site that the “state-of-the-art vessel” was “designed and engineered” in “collaboration (with) experts from NASA, Boeing and the University of Washington.”
A brochure hailed the “innovative vessel” constructed of titanium and carbon fiber that was “designed in collaboration with NASA to provide a safe and comfortable pressure hull which will withstand the enormous pressures.” A press release OceanGate put out in 2021 identified Boeing as a partner in “Design and engineering support.”
But in a statement, Boeing said it “was not a partner on the Titan and did not design or build it.”
And a spokesperson for NASA told USA TODAY the Marshall Space Flight Center had a “Space Act Agreement” with OceanGate and “consulted on materials and manufacturing processes for the submersible.”
“NASA did not conduct testing and manufacturing via its workforce or facilities, which were done elsewhere by OceanGate,” Lance Davis, Marshall Space Flight Center acting news chief said.
The University of Washington told USA TODAY it had a $5 million contract with OceanGate but that the two “parted ways” after only a fraction of the contracted work was completed, and that work was on a different OceanGate submersible called Cyclops 1, which went to much shallower depths than Titan.
The university’s Applied Physics Laboratory “was not involved in the design, engineering or testing of the TITAN submersible used in the RMS TITANIC expedition,” University of Washington spokesperson Victor Balta said.
Balta said OceanGate also used the university’s testing tanks several times between 2018 and 2021, but the university’s employees and researchers weren’t involved.
The final moments of the Titan would have been swift – and unleashed amid a force difficult to comprehend, experts in physics and submarines told USA TODAY. Pressure at the depth of the Titanic – 12,500 feet down – is nearly 380 times greater than at the surface, said Luc Wille, a professor and chair of physics at Florida Atlantic University.
Even high-grade military submarines don’t wander around the ocean at full depth because it’s just too dangerous, said Eric Fusil, a submarine expert and associate professor at the University of Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. It would take about “20 milliseconds to crush a hull” at those depths, Fusil said.
Although the Titan’s composite hull is built to withstand intense deep-sea pressures, any defect in its shape or build would compromise its integrity and increase the risk of implosion, said Professor Stefan Williams, a marine robotics and underwater vessel expert at the University of Sydney.
– Dinah Voyles Pulver
Where the missing sub was found:Debris field confirmed to be missing Titanic submarine.
Loved ones of the men killed when the submersible imploded are remembering them as adventure-loving. OceanGate, the company that owned the Titan, said they had “a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans.”
Hamish Harding, a British explorer and dealer of private jets, “was one of a kind and we adored him,” his family said in a statement. “What he achieved in his lifetime was truly remarkable and if we can take any small consolation from this tragedy, it’s that we lost him doing what he loved.”
Another explorer on board, noted Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet, was “the ultimate prankster and had the BEST sense of humor,” his stepson John Paschall tweeted Friday.
Paschall said Nargeolet’s name will “live on in the oceanographic world forever.”
“What makes me feel so fortunate is that I got to have him as a stepdad. He immediately welcomed me as family and our connection only grew stronger through the years,” Paschall said.
“I can’t think of anything that I’m aware of that he would enjoy doing more than traveling around and sharing information and his experiences with people,” longtime friend and former colleague Matthew Tulloch said of Nargeolet.
Remote-operated vehicle launched on mission to map debris field
The ROV that first discovered the debris from the Titan’s implosion continued its mission Friday to return to the seafloor as part of recovery efforts, the company that owns it said.
“The mission is for continued mapping and documentation of the area and assisting in any direct recovery of debris,” Pelagic Research Services spokesperson Jeff Mahoney said in a statement.
The ROV, Odysseus 6K, is the only ROV that has been to the debris site as of Friday, Mahoney said. It launched from the Horizon Arctic vessel in the Northern Atlantic.
A family member of the two Pakistani passengers killed in the dive says her 19-year-old nephew was hesitant to accompany his father on the voyage.
Azmeh Dawood, the older sister of Shahzada Dawood, told NBC News that her nephew, Suleman Dawood, informed a relative that he “wasn’t very up for it” and felt “terrified” about the trip.
She told the outlet that Suleman ended up going on the trip because it fell over Father’s Day weekend and he was eager to please his dad, who was passionate about the Titanic. “I feel disbelief,” Azmeh told NBC. “It’s an unreal situation.”
Suleman Dawood was a student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, the university confirmed. He just completed his first year in the business school there.
The other three people believed to have perished are Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate, British adventurer Hamish Harding and French deep-sea explorer and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
“Tragic news that those on the Titan submersible, including three British citizens, have been lost following an international search operation,” U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “The UK government is closely supporting the families affected and expresses our deepest condolences.”
U.S. Coast Guard officials said remote-operated vehicles will continue working on the seafloor where searchers identified the debris field of the imploded capsule, even as the mission turned from search and rescue to recovery.
Authorities have already spent several days combing the surface and depths of the ocean in a massive search that likely cost taxpayers millions, according to Chris Boyer, the executive director of the National Association for Search and Rescue.
Boyer said the Coast Guard doesn’t charge people for search and rescue. “That’s their job,” he said, noting fear of costs could deter people from seeking lifesaving help.
While some adventure expeditions require patrons to take out insurance policies, few would come close to covering likely the costs of the current rescue mission, he said.
-Chris Kenning, USA TODAY
Submersible company OceanGate designed, owned and operated the Titan vessel, according to the company’s website. OceanGate Expeditions, based in the Bahamas, operates the U.S.-based OceanGate Inc., headquartered in Everett, Washington.
The Titan submersible was about 8 feet high, 9 feet wide and 22 feet long, according to the OceanGate website. It was designed to reach about 13,000 feet deep and travel at 3 knots, the company says. The vessel had a five-inch-thick carbon fiber and titanium hull and four 10-horsepower electric thrusters, according to court filings.
Missing Titanic sub:How does the Titan submersible work? Here’s a look inside
At least 46 people successfully traveled on OceanGate’s submersible to the Titanic wreck site in 2021 and 2022, according to letters the company filed with a U.S. District Court in Virginia.
“On the first dive to the Titanic, the submersible encountered a battery issue and had to be manually attached to its lifting platform,” one filing says. “In the high sea state, the submersible sustained modest damage to its external components and OceanGate decided to cancel the second mission for repairs and operational enhancements.”
When the Titan submersible made its fateful dive into the North Atlantic on Sunday, it also plunged into the murkily regulated waters of deep-sea exploration. It’s a space on the high seas where laws and conventions can be sidestepped by risk-taking entrepreneurs and wealthy tourists who help fund their dreams. At least for now.
“We’re at a point in submersible operations in deep water that’s kind of akin to where aviation was in the early 20th century,” said Salvatore Mercogliano, a history professor at Campbell University in North Carolina who focuses on maritime history and policy.
Mercogliano said such operations are scrutinized less than the companies that launch people into space. In Titan’s case, that’s, in part, because it operated in international waters, far from the reach of many laws of the U.S. or other nations.
The Titan wasn’t registered as a U.S. vessel or with international agencies that regulate safety, Mercogliano said. Nor was it classified by a maritime industry group that sets standards on matters such as hull construction.
– The Associated Press
Missing Titanic submersible:Maps, graphics show last location, depth and design
Filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron, who directed the blockbuster movie “Titanic,” reflected on the eerie parallel between the Titan submersible and the wreck of the Titanic in interviews with multiple news outlets this week.
“The (Titanic) captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship, and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field on a moonless night and many people died as a result,” Cameron told ABC News. “For a very similar tragedy, where warnings went unheeded, to take place at the same exact site with all the diving that’s going on all around the world, I think it’s just astonishing.”
Cameron has embarked on 33 deep-sea dives to visit the Titanic’s wreck site and co-designed a submersible that went to the deepest part of the ocean. He has been vocally critical of the engineering behind the Titan and said he was always concerned it could be too experimental to take passengers to the Titanic wreckage.
He told ABC the five people on the Titan may have had a warning that something was going wrong before the sub imploded. “They probably had warning that their hull was starting to delaminate,” Cameron told the outlet. He said the submersible had sensors on the inside of the hull, “to give them a warning when it was starting to crack.”
The Titan sub’s warning system might have given the crew very little time to react, according to court filings by an ex-employee who was sued by OceanGate in 2018.
David Lochridge, a former director of marine operations, was sued over an engineering report he wrote saying the craft under development needed more testing and that passengers might be endangered when it reached “extreme depths.” He claimed he expressed concern that the company was relying on an acoustic monitoring system to “detect the start of a hull breakdown when the submersible was about to fail.”
“(T)his type of acoustic analysis would only show when a component is about to fail – often milliseconds before an implosion – and would not detect any existing flaws prior to putting pressure onto the hull,” Lochridge contended in a countersuit.
Science writer and CBS correspondent David Pogue, who boarded the submersible for a report that aired in November, told USA TODAY he was concerned about the vessel’s safety.
“There were parts of it that seemed to me to be less sophisticated than I was guessing. You drive it with a PlayStation video controller … some of the ballasts are old, rusty construction pipes,” Pogue said. “There were certain things that looked like cut corners.”
Arthur Loibl, a retired businessman from Germany, took a dive to the site two years ago. “Imagine a metal tube a few meters long with a sheet of metal for a floor. You can’t stand. You can’t kneel. Everyone is sitting close to or on top of each other,” Loibl told the Associated Press. “You can’t be claustrophobic.”
During the 2.5-hour descent and ascent, the lights were turned off to conserve energy, he said, with the only illumination coming from a fluorescent glow stick. The dive was repeatedly delayed to fix a problem with the battery and the balancing weights. In total, the voyage took 10.5 hours, he said.
A news special on the Titan submersible sparked backlash this week while crews were in the midst of searching for the vessel at sea. ITN’s “Titanic Sub: Lost at Sea” was scheduled to air on Britain’s Channel 5 on Thursday at 2 p.m. EDT. Members of the public slammed the program because of its timing.
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, Dinah Voyles Pulver, Morgan Hines and Edward Segarra, USA TODAY; The Associated Press