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Titanic submersible CEO had spoken about worry of vessel not surfacing

OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush said last year that his greatest fear was being in a submersible during one of his company’s expeditions exploring the wreckage of the Titanic and facing “things that will stop me from being able to get to the surface.”

Months before he was among the five people in a submersible that’s been missing for days in the North Atlantic, Rush told “CBS Sunday Morning” in December that he didn’t think diving in a submersible was “very dangerous” at all. But when asked by CBS News correspondent David Pogue of the dangers that exist at nearly 13,000 feet underwater, Rush said he worried about the vessel not making its way back to the surface for a variety of reasons.

“What I worry about most are things that will stop me from being able to get to the surface,” he said. “Overhangs, fish nets, entanglement hazards. And, that’s just a technique, piloting technique. It’s pretty clear — if it’s an overhang, don’t go under it. If there is a net, don’t go near it. So, you can avoid those if you are just slow and steady.”

Drone footage on June 20 showed the headquarters of missing submersible operator OceanGate Expeditions in Everett, Wash. (Video: Reuters)

In the same interview, Rush, the co-founder of the private research and tourism company that has conducted more than a dozen underwater expeditions since 2010, said that while the appropriate safety measures were being taken by OceanGate, “there’s a limit” to his safety concerns.

“I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed,” he said. “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.”

The interview has gotten increased attention as the search for the OceanGate vessel enters its fourth day, with rescue teams racing against time Wednesday and the vessel’s oxygen supply estimated to run out Thursday, according to the Coast Guard.

The search has not yielded any positive results as of Wednesday morning, but the Coast Guard’s First District reported that a Canadian P-3 aircraft detected underwater noises in the area where crews are looking for the missing Titan submersible, and operations were redirected there.

Rush, 61, is joined onboard by British businessman Hamish Harding, 58; British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son, Suleman, 19; and retired French navy commander Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77.

As the search continues, the oversight of OceanGate’s safety measures has come into question due to a 2018 lawsuit by a former employee who claimed that the company did not do enough to address “quality control and safety issues relating to the Titan.”

David Lochridge, the company’s former director of marine operations, said in a complaint obtained by The Washington Post that OceanGate refused to pay a manufacturer to build a viewport that would meet the required depth of 4,000 meters, or more than 13,000 feet. Lochridge, whose lawsuit was eventually settled, also said in the complaint that paying passengers would not be aware or informed that “hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.”

In December, Rush spoke to CBS about OceanGate’s eight-day expeditions to see Titanic wreckage — a once-in-a-lifetime trip that costs $250,000 for each passenger. The CEO told Pogue that he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, until he had an epiphany that he could explore elsewhere.

“I wanted to be sort of the Captain Kirk,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the passenger in the back. And I realized that the ocean is the universe. That’s where life is.”

At one point, the CBS correspondent described the submersible as being the size of a minivan. The journalist also noted to Rush that elements of the submersible featured what he called a “jerryriggedness” that he likened to something people would see on “MacGyver,” the fictional television character known for his unorthodox engineering skills.

Rush did not agree with that assessment, saying the company worked with Boeing, NASA and the University of Washington to make sure that the pressure vessel, the carbon-fiber tube that helps keeps passengers alive onboard, was up to standards. As long as the pressure vessel does not fail, Rush said that “everything else can fail” and the submersible would still be in good shape.

“It doesn’t matter. Your thrusters can go. Your lights can go. All these things can fail. You’re still going to be safe. And so, that allows you to do what you call MacGyver stuff,” he told CBS. “You just have to be very careful that the life support system, the sub itself, the oxygen system, the carbon dioxide scrubbing, all that stuff, that needs to be buttoned down.”

Rush acknowledged his fear of the submersible not being able to make it back to the surface, but argued that “there hasn’t even been a major injury, let alone a fatality” in submersible activity for decades.

Pogue, who went on an expedition last summer for the story that ran in December, tweeted Tuesday that he noticed “many red flags” during his time on the trip, which is why he challenged Rush on the safety and the construction of the submersible.

When they were aboard the Titan, Rush had a message for Pogue and the viewers at home watching his submersible go deep into the water: “We are now the safest five people on the planet.”

Missing Titanic submersible

The latest: A Canadian aircraft detected underwater noises Wednesday morning in the search to find five people trapped onboard the missing submersible, but the craft itself has not been found. Get the latest news on the missing submersible.

The Titan: The voyage to see the Titanic wreckage is eight days long, costs $250,000 and is open to passengers age 17 and older. The Titan is 22 feet long, weighs 23,000 pounds and “has about as much room as a minivan,” according to CBS correspondent David Pogue. Here’s what we know about the missing submersible.

The search: The daunting mission covers the ocean’s surface and the vast depths beneath. The search poses unique challenges that are further complicated by the depths involved. This map shows the scale of the search near the Titanic wreckage.

The passengers: Hamish Harding, an aviation businessman, aircraft pilot and seasoned adventurer, posted on Instagram that he was joining the expedition and said retired French navy commander Paul-Henri Nargeolet was also onboard. British Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son, Suleman, 19, were also on the expedition, their family confirmed. The CEO of OceanGate, the submersible expedition company, was also on the vessel. Here’s what we know about the five missing passengers.


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