Experts on implosion to last transcripts, recapping the tragedy

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Less than three weeks ago, the Titan Submersible by OceanGate Expeditions suffered a catastrophic implosion that resulted in the instant deaths of its five passengers. Aboard the tourist craft were OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, 61; British billionaire Hamish Harding, 58; renowned Titanic expert, Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77; prominent Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Sulaiman Dawood.

The submersible went missing on June 18, 2023. When it entered the water, it had about 96 hours of oxygen which was expected to run out on June 22, 2023. The surface vessel, Polar Prince lost contact with the submersible approximately one hour and 45 minutes after it commenced its dive to the site of the Titanic’s wreckage.

Titan Tragedy Timeline: Search and Rescue

The United States Coast Guard, United States Navy, and Canadian Coast Guard led the search and rescue efforts with the support of multiple governments. On June 20, 2023, sonar picked up “banging” sounds from underneath the water. The noise was detected at 30-minute intervals. Reports suggest that the banging was being heard even after four hours following the deployment of additional sonar devices. More sounds were later heard, but they were not described as “banging.”

On June 22, 2023, the US Coast Guard announced the discovery of a significant debris field within the designated search area. The missing submersible’s landing frame and rear cover had been found.“They don’t use phrases like ‘debris field’ unless there’s no chance of a recovery of the men alive. A debris field implies a break-up of the submersible … that really sort of indicates what is the worst-case scenario, which is a catastrophic failure and generally that’s an implosion,” said rescue expert David Mearns.

Later that same day, the US Coast Guard said that all five people aboard a submersible died – likely in an instant – when their vessel suffered a “catastrophic implosion” in the ocean depths. And with this sombre announcement ended the multinational search-and-rescue operation.

It is believed that the submersible imploded so fast that all five victims onboard would have been unaware of the event taking place.

Ofer Ketter, a longtime submersible specialist and co-founder of private sub company Sub-Merge told New York Post that the force of the implosion which caused Titan to collapse inward in milliseconds under the massive pressure of the sea, might have turned parts of the vessel “to dust”.

According to Roderick Smith, an engineering professor at Imperial College London, the probable cause of the accident can be attributed to a “failure of the pressure hull.”

Rear Admiral John Mauger confirmed that the discovered debris indicated a “catastrophic implosion.” The extreme pressure at a depth of 13,000 feet likely caused the sub to collapse inward, resulting in an instantaneous and ‘painless’ end for the passengers.

Last Communication with the Titan Submersible

On July 6, 2023, screenshots claiming to be the final communications of the submersible were shared. According to these, when the descent reached the 75-minute mark, the passengers expressed their confidence, stating that everything is under control.

However, at 9:28 am, the crew aboard the Titan notices an alarm from the Real-Time Monitoring System, prompting unanimous agreement to abandon the descent and begin ascending. Unfortunately, the ascent proves slower than anticipated.

By the time they provide their final update, the Real-Time Monitoring System displays “all red” alerts. At 9:50 am, the ship, the Polar Prince, attempts to establish communication with the sub, stating, “We’re not receiving you. Update please.”

The transcript abruptly concludes at 9:57 am, with a final plea from the ship urging the sub to respond if able.

Although no official word confirms the veracity of this transcript experts, including ‘Titanic’ director James Cameron, find its content plausible.

Description of the Submersible

OceanGate explained that the Titan is a 23,000-pound submersible made of carbon fibre and titanium. The vessel uses a “proprietary real-time hull health monitoring (RTM) system,” and any time an issue is detected, an “early warning” would be sent to the pilot, to leave “enough time to … safely return to the surface.”

With a nine feet wide and 8 feet tall structure, Titan left little room for its crew. Passengers were cramped in on a subfloor inside the carbon-fibre tube. With only one toilet and no seats, passengers had to sit cross-legged on the floor. There were no windows except the porthole through which passengers could view the Titanic.

Previous Safety Concerns Ignored

Following this tragedy, harrowing details emerged about the reckless behaviour and disregard for safety exhibited by OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush. A video interview from 2021 revealed Rush’s audacious mindset where he expressed a desire to be remembered as an innovator and boasted about breaking rules. He quoted General Douglas MacArthur’s statement that “You’re remembered for the rules you break.” Rush said safety is “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,” Rush said in a 2022 podcast with CBS reporter David Pogue. “At some point, you’re going to take some risk, and it really is a risk-reward question.”.

But the late CEO believed that selectively breaking rules could bring value to society and innovation. He also admitted the difficulty in testing and understanding the behaviour of carbon fibre under extreme pressure, emphasizing the need for further research.

It has been revealed that Rush was warned about the risks he was taking. A former OceanGate Expeditions employee had reportedly warned of “quality control and safety” problems related to the Titan submersible back in 2018. David Lochridge, OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, had raised concerns about how the vessel was handled by the company. As per a lawsuit, David was wrongfully terminated after he said he found a “lack of non-destructive testing performed on the hull of the Titan.”