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The OceanGate Disaster: a Submarine Captain’s Early Unofficial Assessment

The OceanGate Disaster: a Submarine Captain’s Early Unofficial Assessment

You may not be interested in mother nature, but mother nature is interested in you, and if you do not follow mother nature’s commands and respect her power, you will die.

As you have heard, and as we have reported, the OceanGate Titan was lost at sea after a “catastrophic implosion” resulted in the deaths of all five souls on board. See our reporting here:

Unfortunately, I was on vacation while these tragic events transpired, ironically meeting with my best friend, who served with me on my first submarine, USS Guardfish (SSN-612), from 1983 to 1986.

Before I say anything about the OceanGate disaster I want to express my deepest sympathy to the family members of those lost. It is incredibly tragic to lose someone before their time, but especially when one of those lost is only 19-years-old, and especially when the whole world is watching. Nothing I can say will assuage the pain those grieving family members are feeling.

My Background

For those who have not read my bio, I am a 31-year Navy veteran who spent his professional life on submarines, ultimately serving as Commanding Officer of USS Toledo (SSN-769), an improved, Tomahawk-capable, and totally awesome, Los-Angeles class attack submarine, from June 1998 to April 2001. I also had the good fortune to be the submarine liaison officer to an aircraft carrier battle group staff, deploying on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV-59) to the Mediterranean immediately after the Persian Gulf War, and to the Navy’s Sixth Fleet, based in Italy, with responsibility covering the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, and portions of the Arctic Ocean. So I’ve spent some time thinking about submarine stuff.

One other thing: my dad was a Master Chief Petty Officer enlisted submarine veteran, and I remember around age 5 descending into one of his submarines and eating ice cream in the Chief’s Quarters. That was the best.

First, in defense of OceanGate, the average lay person has no idea about the awe-inspiring destructive power of the world’s oceans, which I saw first-hand for many years. OceanGate was dealing with an incredible, almost god-like force, that can and has destroyed countless man-made contraptions through the centuries.

Professor Jacobson says “you may not be interested in culture war, but culture war is interested in you.” I would paraphrase that to say “you may not be interested in mother nature, but mother nature is interested in you, and if you do not follow mother nature’s commands and respect her power, you will die.” If you embark on the high seas, you have to KNOW your ship’s capabilities and only endure risks you know you will survive.

As to my analysis, you must understand that it is colored by my decades of serving in a program designed and run by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (and his successors). If you don’t know about Rickover, aka “The Father of the Nuclear Navy,” you should. The stories about him are numerous and somewhat crazy at times, and I have a personal one about my interview with Rickover to enter the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, a prerequisite for submarine service, while I was a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy (short take: it didn’t go well, and no one was more surprised when I was accepted into the program than me).

Anyway, Rickover was an absolute beast about safety, yet took military necessity into account when necessary, in ways that I can’t discuss but that are a major reason why the U.S. Navy’s submarine force is such a force to be reckoned with.  As Wikipedia says about the Cold War, “U.S. submarines far outperformed the Soviet ones in the crucial area of stealth, and Rickover’s obsessive fixation on safety and quality control gave the U.S. nuclear Navy a vastly superior safety record to the Soviet one.” Of note: Rickover had seven rules that seem mostly applicable to OceanGate. They are:

  • Rule 1: You must have a rising standard of quality over time, and well beyond what is required by any minimum standard.
  • Rule 2: People running complex systems should be highly capable.
  • Rule 3: Supervisors have to face bad news when it comes and take problems to a level high enough to fix those problems.
  • Rule 4: You must have a healthy respect for the dangers and risks of your particular job.
  • Rule 5: Training must be constant and rigorous.
  • Rule 6: All the functions of repair, quality control, and technical support must fit together.
  • Rule 7: The organization and members thereof must have the ability and willingness to learn from mistakes of the past.

During my time, which was mostly after Rickover’s passing, another feature that became embedded in submarine culture was the concept of “forceful backup,” meaning that junior members of a watch team were empowered, encouraged, and required to speak up when something didn’t seem right, even if they were the newest person on the ship and the action being taken was the Captain’s. There is a natural impediment to speaking up, usually for one of two reasons: the supervisor is a jerk and/or hates bad news (the usual case, frankly), or is so respected for his prowess and competency that he is almost revered, and the natural inclination is to think that such a person can do no wrong (the so-called “halo effect”). Both are deadly.


Reading the dozens of stories about the OceanGate disaster, the things that stand out to me are that Stockton Rush, OceanGate’s CEO, employed personnel not based on merit, refused to have the Titan inspected by a third-party, and did not like to hear bad news. None of those are good.

First, and as we reported previously, Rush “Didn’t Hire ’50-Year-Old White Guys’ With Experience to Guide Titanic Sub Because They Aren’t ‘Inspirational.’” This decision shows that a woke mindset can be deadly:

Stockton Rush, 61, added that such expertise was unnecessary because “anybody can drive the sub” with a $30 video game controller.

“When I started the business, one of the things you’ll find, there are other sub-operators out there, but they typically have, uh, gentlemen who are ex-military submariners, and they — you’ll see a whole bunch of 50-year-old white guys,” Rush told Teledyne Marine in a newly resurfaced undated Zoom interview.

“I wanted our team to be younger, to be inspirational and I’m not going to inspire a 16-year-old to go pursue marine technology, but a 25-year-old, uh, you know, who’s a sub pilot or a platform operator or one of our techs can be inspirational,” he continued.

This decision violated Rickover’s Rule No. 2, and elevated virtue signaling over a rational acceptance of risk and excellence.  Additionally, Rush’s comment about the video game controller irritates me, not because of the controller, but because he had to know that merely “driving the sub” is a minor part of the task – more important is having the experience and capability to survive when things go haywire, something “50-year-old white guys” who are “ex-military submariners” are probably pretty good at — a 25-year-old with no experience? Not so much.

Second, the fact that Rush refused to have his vessel inspected by a third party is important, not because of the refusal per se, but because it shows he didn’t want to know about his own ship. As Liz Taylor, President of DOER [Deep Ocean Exploration and Research] Marine explains:

“Stockton felt like he was pushing the edge, he wanted to push the envelope, use some new materials,” she said.

And that’s when Taylor specifically advised against the use of carbon fiber [to construct the pressure hull], as it’s still experimental and has not been tested over time in extreme depths of the ocean.

“With the carbon fiber, it’s been shown to not be very happy when it’s being immersed first of all and then being hollow on the inside or just one atmosphere on the inside and then having the tremendous pressure of the ocean trying to push in on it, it’s not the right material,” she said.

Then, in 2018, the manned submersible committee of the Marine Technology Society, backed her up, writing a letter also urging Rush not to proceed.

Ignoring all warnings, he moved forward using carbon fiber on his submersible.

“Where this really went kind of askew, was that he was like, I don’t need that,” she said. “I’ve done the math, I’m confident in my engineering and kind of just went down a path of really kind of thumbing the nose of the classing agencies.”

Taylor says Rush cut obvious corners, like not building his sub in a pair to have self-rescue capacity or with what’s called an ROV.

That’s a remotely operated vehicle that can serve as a self-rescue tool.

“There was no capable ROV on board, there was no second submersible,” she said.

The idea of the second ROV is important, and if you look at pictures of the Titan, you don’t see much redundancy built in: U.S. submarines have (at least) two of everything, in case one fails. U.S. submarines still use, to my knowledge, sound-powered phones to communicate between compartments. These devices, which are glorified tin cans-connected-by-wire arrangements work, even with no power, or light.

A third-party inspection might have pointed all of this out. Which brings us to point number three:

When you lead an organization you have to have the ability to listen to bad news, and act on it appropriately. See Rickover’s Rule No. 3. There is evidence that Rush not only failed to listen to outsiders, as the Taylor report (above) shows, but Rush also fired his Director of Marine Operations and later sued him after the Officer filed a written report outlining dangers with the Titan: The missing Titanic sub would only detect hull failure ‘milliseconds before an implosion,’ company executive warned in 2018

A submarine pilot hired to assess the now-missing Titanic submersible warned in 2018 that its hull monitoring system would only detect failure “often milliseconds before an implosion.”

David Lochridge, a submarine pilot and inspector from Scotland, said in court filings that he was fired after expressing concerns about the safety of the Titan — a 22-foot submersible that disappeared on Sunday while carrying five people to see the wreck of the Titanic.

Lochridge was hired by OceanGate, the Washington-based company that runs tours with the Titan, as director of marine operations and started working with the firm in 2015…

Lochridge said he raised “serious safety concerns” in his inspection report, including issues regarding the viewport’s design. His primary worry, however, was over a lack of testing on the Titan’s hull, Lochridge said in his countersuit…

Lochridge warned that the system would “only show when a component is about to fail — often milliseconds before an implosion,” and couldn’t detect if any existing flaws were already affecting the hull, the lawsuit said.

“Non-destructive testing was critical to detect such potentially existing flaws in order to ensure a solid and safe product for the safety of the passengers and crew,” Lochridge’s lawsuit said.

However, the submarine pilot said OceanGate told him that the Titan’s hull was too thick to scan for weak spots and adhesion issues.

Lochridge said that after he submitted his inspection report, OceanGate fired him and gave the pilot “approximately 10 minutes to immediately clear out his desk and exit the premises.”

This is not the action of one who invites bad news and reacts appropriately to it.

In sum, this is a tragedy of epic proportions.

The opinions contained in this report are just that, opinions, and I look forward to reviewing the investigations that are in progress and will update my analysis as more facts are revealed to the public.


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William A. Jacobson | June 28, 2023 at 8:04 pm

Hey folks, Jim is too humble to brag, but he has ***** of steel in tough times underwater. Read this account of his handling of one of the most famous submarine incidents ever, the explosion of the Soviet Kursk submarine:

“An agitated voice from the sonar shack reported a sudden course change by Master Two. The Kursk was now headed right at the Toledo. Nault had seconds to react. He could not order a deep dive as the ocean was too shallow. All he could do was order a slight downward angle and a hard-right turn to avoid the impending collision. The diving officer quickly relayed the order. The helmsman and planesman struggled to obey. Their hands gripped two half-circle steering wheels. One cranked to the right and the other pushed slightly downward. The boat angled toward the bottom. A coffee cup crashed to the deck.

Commander Nault ordered all-ahead full and a course change away from Master Two. Once at a safe distance, he decided to bring the boat to periscope depth to assess the situation. The Toledo angled upward. Seconds before it reached periscope depth, a muffled clap rocked the boat from side to side. Nault called sonar for an explanation. A petty officer reported an explosion from the direction of the Kursk, now less than 1,000 yards away.

Two minutes after the initial explosion, a sonarman in the shack heard the Kursk slam into the ocean floor. He clicked his comm to inform Nault, but before he could speak, he was forced to rip off his headphones.

An earsplitting explosion, hundreds of times louder than the first, shattered the silence in the control room. The Toledo rocked from side to side, like a bottle tossed about on a rough sea. Nault ordered a shallow dive and all-ahead full. As a trained submarine commander, he could not feel anything but shock and dismay. The strong smell of Navy coffee in the control room served as a morbid reminder that he was still alive, and the crew of the Kursk might not be.”

More on the Kursk here,

JohnSmith100 | June 28, 2023 at 8:25 pm

I am a retired engineer and I spent a year designing a control system for curing carbon fiber. I don’t have submarine experience; I do have a lot of experience dealing with safety issue. This guy went off halfcocked and now a bunch of other people are dead. He was an example of
‘Evolution in action”, who was responsible for may other deaths.

    alaskabob in reply to JohnSmith100. | June 28, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    I understand the pre-preg carbon fiber had passed use by date and was now “cheaper” to buy. i would expect microbubbles of air trapped in the 5 inches of wrap and since the wrap was a back and forth spooling it had mostly uni-direction strength of the fibers, some additional dimensional strength but not in all three planes. As such the compression from the ends was held in check by just the epoxy. Previous passengers had reported “crackling” sounds from the hull…. ah… duh!

    I am surprised how much of the wreck they brought up from that depth. Looking forward to seeing close-ups of the debris.

    Here is an interesting test of a cylinder of carbon fiber performed years ago. The break was not as impressive since the failure deduced the pressure whereas at depth the pressure would have remained essentially the same.

      artichoke in reply to alaskabob. | June 28, 2023 at 10:32 pm

      There was crackling heard and still they kept using it without being able to examine it or figure out the reason? I am more careful that that with my old car in figuring out the reason for any anomalous condition that I notice!

      This guy seems to have had an invincibility complex and/or a death wish. When there’s even a warning, not to investigate it is actually impossible for me to imagine. I suppose his unfortunate passengers on this trip did not know of those prior “crackling” reports.

      Sanddog in reply to alaskabob. | June 29, 2023 at 2:51 am

      It looks like they brought back damned near everything but the pressure chamber.

    healthguyfsu in reply to JohnSmith100. | June 29, 2023 at 12:31 am

    Might be the most expensive Darwin award in history.

      amatuerwrangler in reply to healthguyfsu. | June 29, 2023 at 8:28 am

      I think that’s Challenger waiting for you on line 2. Something about frozen O-rings….

        Tionico in reply to amatuerwrangler. | June 29, 2023 at 2:15 pm

        Yeah.. the o-rings NASA were warned about by at least one man working on that project. He happened to be watching the launch and when the first signs of trouble became evident, he KNEW absolutely what was going on, that the rocket would explode, the crew die.. and preciesly what the failure was. He had written it up years ago, proposing a change order to prevent the problem. but Uncle Stupid decided the “egg on face” quotient would ot play well in public, and the delays would “make someone look bad”. When they called a halt to the programme to “fix things” they dragged out the change orders from years back and implemented them.
        Not much different than this submersible imploding.

        healthguyfsu in reply to amatuerwrangler. | June 29, 2023 at 7:49 pm

        I’m not sure I’d classify that as a Darwin award considering the victims were likely unaware of the dangers.

        In this case, at least one was willfully ignorant and the others would have benefited from studying the “leader” a little more closely.

    OldProf2 in reply to JohnSmith100. | June 29, 2023 at 12:50 am

    Isn’t carbon fiber mostly strong in tension, but relatively weak and unreliable in compression? (the opposite of concrete)

    If they had made the tube from steel or titanium and had it certified by an outside expert, I suspect this accident would not have happened. It looks like the titanium end caps survived the pressure.

      Sanddog in reply to OldProf2. | June 29, 2023 at 2:57 am

      Not only the end caps but it looks like the titanium collars as well. They were glued onto the carbon fiber hull. That’s just mind-boggling. Glue.

        ghost dog in reply to Sanddog. | June 29, 2023 at 3:24 am

        Well it was better than the original solution of tape.

        rokemronnie in reply to Sanddog. | June 29, 2023 at 1:27 pm

        Don’t underestimate modern adhesives, how do you think they build airplanes out of carbon fiber? The superstructures of Lotus, Aston Martin, and Jaguars are made of aluminum subassemblies bonded together with adhesives. Obviously there are going to be issues trying to bond dissimilar materials, polymers to metal (CFRP to Ti), but in a lot of cases of chemical bonding, the “weld” is stronger than the pieces being bonded.

          JohnSmith100 in reply to rokemronnie. | July 1, 2023 at 8:28 am

          Differences in coefficient of expansion are a big problem which will cause bonding failure. That is a common cause of semiconductors failures.

        Dimsdale in reply to Sanddog. | July 2, 2023 at 1:33 am

        Just a different twist on this: I was working at Woods Hole, at the Marine Biological Lab, and was able to see the Alvin submersible at dock. On the deck of this, there were some components that were clamped together with a pair of Vise Grips.

        Now mind you, Alvin has an excellent record of performance at depth, and the Vise Grips might have been a temporary fix at the surface, but it did make me wonder…and use genuine Vise Grip pliers for all my automotive tasks where appropriate.

      DaveGinOly in reply to OldProf2. | June 29, 2023 at 1:47 pm

      Naturally, the weakest link in the chain broke first. Doesn’t mean the other links were strong by an objective measure, just that they were stronger than the link that broke. Once the carbon fiber hull imploded, the surviving parts were no longer subject to the pressure differential that crushed the hull. The titanium (and other surviving parts) weren’t (or weren’t any longer) holding the water’s pressure against an internal space maintaining a lower-pressure. Once separated from the hull, the other parts couldn’t be crushed because there were no internal spaces.

      Tionico in reply to OldProf2. | June 29, 2023 at 2:09 pm

      True enough. I have the strong impression this whole show was wrangled by a guy with delusions of invincibility, nd an eye toward the bottom linr, as in, guarding the Banjamins. His Job One should have been guarding the paying passengers.
      I am imagining 9maybe fitilely) that there will be some rather distressing legal actions brought against this guy as the “details” manage to ooze out from the cracks in what is left of the machinery he invented but did not adequately test.

Conservative Beaner | June 28, 2023 at 8:37 pm

I served on a few boats. Training was absolute and there was no room for shortcuts. Obviiously there were shortcuts and unfortunately five people found out the hard way.

The truth can be hard. Mother Nature can be harder.

Lucifer Morningstar | June 28, 2023 at 8:57 pm

First, in defense of OceanGate , , ,

Sorry, there is no defense for the total incompetent, negligent, and outright criminal manner in which OceanGate conducted its business. So please don’t make excuses or defend Stockton Rush for the tragedy that occurred. He was solely responsible.

    not_a_lawyer in reply to Lucifer Morningstar. | June 28, 2023 at 9:37 pm


    BierceAmbrose in reply to Lucifer Morningstar. | June 29, 2023 at 5:29 pm

    Let’s not forget willful hubris — you’d know about that, I’ve heard.

      Lucifer Morningstar in reply to BierceAmbrose. | June 30, 2023 at 9:43 am

      Ah, another effing Trump Troll makes its appearance. Whatever Trumpie. Whatever.

        BierceAmbrose in reply to Lucifer Morningstar. | July 1, 2023 at 10:18 pm

        God lord, Little Horn, where the hell did that come from? I’m agreeing with you, with no reference to The God Emperor, so no need to fell crowded.

        — Reporting on how OceanGate sure shows a lot of *willful hubris*, driving the criminal behavior, and so on. They weren’t just lazy n evil, they were arrogant about it.

        — As the leading example of the sin off pride, will, and yes, hubris, perhaps Lucifer Morningstar would know something about how CEO-guy throught. We better now?

        I think refs to one’s handle are fair game, no? (Cue the Occurrance at Owl Creek Bridge references.) I am curious how CEO-guy is finding things in your domain, now? A bit surprised, perhaps — that not working out as he expected, either?

In cancun, the 25 year old working the cigarette boats got annoyed because I wouldn’t push the speed boat loaded with me, my wife, my then 5 year old daughter, and my then 75 year old mom to go as fast as his single seater across choppy water.

He swore these can’t tip over. It’s never happened.

Uh-huh- the 25 year old Mexican kid said so, it must be perfectly safe.

Thank you for your very interesting analysis. My only point of contention is that this event is less a tragedy and more criminal negligence caused by extreme hubris.

Given your background, you are likely well aware of technical readiness levels (or TRLs) in technology development. Advancing in TRL can be extremely difficult, expensive and time consuming, which is why new development is hard.

This company skipped a bunch of steps and their customers paid for its lack of rigor with their lives. I imagine it will justifiably be sued out of existence

    So it’s down at crushing depth. So how many prototypes of this have been crushed? How many dives / how long / how resilient?

      Edward in reply to Andy. | June 29, 2023 at 8:03 am

      Apparently this was the third dive to the Titanic. Haven’t read about any testing at depth.

        coyote in reply to Edward. | June 29, 2023 at 9:58 am

        So, the sub went down to the wreck twice before? Or did prototypes, but not this particular sub do the descents? I haven’t seen that reported one way or the other. Not to have done that would be pure recklessness.

          From what I understand, this sub went down twice with paying passengers and at least once with journalists. I would imagine, though I know nothing about the materials, that it was not inspected for hairline cracks or weaknesses that eventually gave way. It sounds like it was just the pressure from the water, and not that it hit something since it hadn’t gone all the way down to the Titanic wreckage when it imploded.

          JPL17 in reply to coyote. | June 29, 2023 at 11:27 am

          It was the exact same sub. In fact friends of mine were on one of the prior, successful dives. I shudder to think.

          Andy in reply to coyote. | June 29, 2023 at 2:08 pm

          Yeah- so like the COVID vaccine, the trusted their lives to a barely tested prototype under extreme forces.

          BierceAmbrose in reply to coyote. | June 29, 2023 at 5:33 pm

          You know, as we rack up more flights, we’re learning how things work with repeated pressure changes, challenging environments, and complex dynamic mechanical stresses.

          Commercial air flight is safe, and getting safer.

          Oh, wait, that was 100 years ago. It’s like what we learn we forget; what we discover, we don’t generalize.

          BierceAmbrose in reply to coyote. | June 29, 2023 at 5:37 pm

          /For the irony-impared

          My prev, is, to be boringly literal, pointing out how this nascent commercialization-ish of deep-er submersible excursions exactly reflects how early commercial flight played out.

          Stuff in the new regime was not accounted for by understanding from the old. Like wet carbon fiber in the current case. Or square windows are not good in the case of early commercial flight.

          It turns out the Nth flight is not the same as the first, or even N-1. Even if the flight envelope hasn’t changed, the vehicle has.

          JohnSmith100 in reply to coyote. | July 1, 2023 at 8:54 am

          Failure was very much tied to the number of compression cycles, that is a test which should have been done unmanned repeatedly, piss poor engineering when you see failure in 3 cycles. Also, after each dive the hull should have been imaged to determine its condition.

Commander, you are too kind

not_a_lawyer | June 28, 2023 at 9:59 pm

I have ridden a bicycle over 100k miles. I have seen very expensive carbon-fiber bicycles that you can lift with your pinkie finger. They make these bicycles because they are extremely light-weight.

Carbon fiber does not bend, it breaks catastrophically. On my steel wheels, I can hit a large pothole and maybe bend the rim, but it does not shatter. I can continue to the nearest bike shop and have my wheel repaired. A similar incident with a carbon-fiber bicycle renders the bicycle useless as it shatters the wheel.

Had the submersible hull been constructed of steel, to the same specifications as the OceanGate submersible, it is likely that the hull would have started groaning, or emitting sounds that would have indicated that it was time to discontinue descent and return to the surface. Instead, it shattered, with the results we see now.

I have said before, and will repeat one more time, the deep sea is nothing to mess around with. This is navy, commercial oil exploration, and research science territory, not commercial tourism.


    DaveGinOly in reply to not_a_lawyer. | June 29, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    Yup, metal deforms before it ruptures, giving notice that it’s on its way to failure. Carbon fiber fails suddenly and catastrophically.

    (Road cyclist here. Love my carbon-fiber Trek Madone. On an aluminum-framed Trek, with a carbon-fiber fork, while doing 42 mph, I hit a deer. Was surprised that the fork didn’t shatter. It continues, many years later, to soldier on with a friend of mine in the saddle.)

This quote by Rickover, posted in training where I work, has always stuck with me (more should adhere to it):

“Responsibility is a unique concept… You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you… If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”
― Hyman G. Rickover

Fwiw – I am a competitive cyclist riding carbon fibers bikes.

Carbon fiber has very unusual strength characteristics. The carbon fiber bikes are extremely strong in one direction, bet extremely fragile in other directions.

A few years ago , a cyclist soft pedaling around in the parking lot prior toThe ride accidentally t bone any guy and completely shattered the guys bike . Speed about 8 miles per hour

    drednicolson in reply to Joe-dallas. | June 28, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    Automobile engine camshafts are also like that.. They’ll stand up to hundreds of thousands of miles worth of rotational stress, but drop one to the shop floor at waist height and they’ll snap in two.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Joe-dallas. | June 29, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    Carbon fiber bikes (and aircraft parts) are “laid up” with patches and strips of carbon fiber matts, each carefully placed in the structure in order to provide maximum strength along axes that will be subject to specific directional forces. When a carbon-fiber structure meets forces it wasn’t constructed to endure, it can be surprisingly fragile, as you indicated.

    It appeared to me that the titanium caps were glued by flanges into the inside of the hull (rather then being glued into a channel or raceway running around the circumference of the caps), so that the hull would be supported by the caps from both the inside and the outside (making it more resistant to flexing in either direction). My theory is that, because the hull was not otherwise supported along its length, this concentrated the crushing force on its midsection. This may have caused a slight flexing of the hull, creating a force on the hull ends that caused the glue to fail at some point along one of the end caps, pulling the hull away from the cap (similar to the joint-flexing that initiated the Challenger disaster). This caused a jet of water into the hull (as in Challenger, the flexing allowed a jet of flame to escape a booster rocket), alerting the crew to the impending failure of the hull, a moment or two before the hull completely failed by implosion.

drednicolson | June 28, 2023 at 10:14 pm

Good old-fashioned steel may be heavy, harder to work with, and lack that “cutting edge” attractiveness of new age materials, but it can bend before it breaks. In the event of exceeding crush depth, that property potentially grants a few precious seconds to abort a dive before the point of no return.

Guess it just wasn’t sexy enough for the late Mr. Rush.

    gospace in reply to drednicolson. | June 29, 2023 at 12:59 am

    One of the fun things to do for the new non-quals on board before a deep dive is to tie a string- tautly- between two sides of the boat on the ribs. At depth- the rope is sagging nicely. Then- you tie a string tautly at depth. It breaks before you get back up where you started.

    Decks on a sub are floating on supports so they don’t bend as the hull compresses.

      gospace in reply to gospace. | June 29, 2023 at 1:04 am

      And now that I’ve said that- carbon fiber cylinder- titanium ends. They couldn’t possibly compress at the same rate as the vehicle submerged. The carbon fiber-titanium joint could very well be the failure point because of that. I wonder- are there any, any calculations at all, that take THAT into account? Or were they just lucky the first few successful dives?

        alaskabob in reply to gospace. | June 29, 2023 at 12:28 pm

        The wrap of fiber didn’t have weave interposed longitudinally so compressive loads down the bore relied primarily on the epoxy. Any imperfection in mating the ring to the cylinder would create stress points…. that includes the glue. Delamination.

          DaveGinOly in reply to alaskabob. | June 29, 2023 at 2:15 pm

          Ha, I wrote my comment before reading these about failure at the hull-end cap interface. Great minds think alike!

The sad thing is that this thing was ALWAYS going to fail catastrophically eventually.

Every time it pressure cycled to that depth and back was going to weaken the carbon fiber, and the acrylic window was apparently actually DEFORMING nearly an inch every time (the CEO even BRAGGED about how ‘acrylic is great because before it fails it starts to crackle so you have a very audible warning before it fails), meaning that the acrylic window was probably weakening even more each time.

That idiot Rush simply refused to do even basic strength evaluation after dives to ensure that it was still safe. It’s unclear how many trips had been made before, but at LEAST 8 Titanic trips have been confirmed.

Every time they dived the carbon fiber and acrylic got weaker. Not necessarily by a LOT each time, but this system was never going to be able to make more than a limited number of dives safely. And Rush’s absolute REFUSAL to conduct any testing ensured that the degradation was going to proceed until it got to this predictable point, a catastrophic failure.

It was not a question of ‘if’ this death trap would fail, but ‘when’.

    JPL17 in reply to Olinser. | June 29, 2023 at 11:52 am

    Very insightful comment. It’s almost as if Stockton Rush took seriously the classic Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which Calvin (from the back seat of the car while his Dad is about to drive across a bridge) asks, “How do they know the load limit on bridges, Dad?” And his prankish Dad answers, “They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge until it breaks. Then they weigh the last truck and rebuild the bridge.” As a comic strip it was hilarious (see; in real life, not so much.

      DaveGinOly in reply to JPL17. | June 29, 2023 at 2:17 pm

      Calvin grew up to be an engineer employed at OceanGate.

      JohnSmith100 in reply to JPL17. | July 1, 2023 at 9:06 am

      It is a shame that he didn’t come to LI and seek advice, he likely would not, because he was woke, and instead of broke, dead.

RandomCrank | June 29, 2023 at 1:47 am

Mother Nature is an alluring, heartless bitch who couldn’t care less whether you live or die. No one should ever forget it.

It’s like I commented before.
Stockton Rush hired young people without decades of real world experience because he didn’t want to hear, “No Sir, that would be incredibly dangerous and stupid.” He wanted to hear, “Yes Sir, Mr. Wealthy Genius, Sir!”

    Lucifer Morningstar in reply to JohnC. | June 29, 2023 at 7:53 am

    No, I suspect that Stockton Rush hired “young people without decades of real world experience” because all of those “people with decades of real world experience” knew better and wouldn’t get near such a deathtrap that Rush constructed and operated. So he ended up with totally inexperienced crew that didn’t know what they were doing. And the rest is tragic history.

      DaveGinOly in reply to Lucifer Morningstar. | June 29, 2023 at 2:19 pm

      “Experience” also costs money. If Rush was willing to buy out-of-date carbon fiber to save money, he was likely cutting costs everywhere he could, rather than do as a Musk or Bezos, and throw a lot of money (buying a lot of expertise and experience) at a problem.

carbon fiber used a lot in aircraft. but only in specific locations. fwiw I was stores and mtx records guy for largest regional airline (amr eagle) in world, my desk 5 feet away from regional QC inspector for that airline. every time was aircraft incident he, and by extension I, got dragged into it. learned a lot from him and his cadre of VERY experienced inspectors. hell I even taught tool control programs to FAA cause of that.
anyways..I digress…but once the carbon fiber part starts to show any signs of deflection (compression or expansion) its done and over with.
the airline industry learned from failures. seems the deep sea people have not.
the titanic graveyard gained more souls cause of people being dumbasses.

    RandomCrank in reply to dmacleo. | June 29, 2023 at 3:43 pm

    The pressure differentials on commercial aircraft are nothing compared to deep-sea diving vessels.

Always use name-brand duct tape. That generic stuff is not up to the task at hand.

texansamurai | June 29, 2023 at 12:09 pm

ignoring safety protocols / inspections can often be fatal–this was not combat / not a rescue mission / not a “first to find the titanic” scenario–a glorified carnival ride was all

have not had any deep-ocean diving experience like many here but aviation can be just as unforgiving an environment to explore

learned to fly with my father and my uncle (both wwii veteran pilots)–their emphasis on safety basics is with me to this day–“never, EVER skip the walk-around. weather is no excuse.” and another, regards checklists–can’t remember if was in a beech or a mooney–was going thru pre-flight checklist with my uncle and asked why was necessary to do this as we could see the various points noted on the plastic flipchart–he took the plastic spiral flipchart he was holding and slapped me in the chest with the damn thing saying “these are written in BLOOD. NEVER skip them.” and thus i never have

seems unlikely that SOMEONE involved with the launch / operations process of a submersible would not at least do some sort of pre-dive inspection/checklist that might have foretold impending problems and perhaps averted disaster–that rush KNEW the vehicle’s construction was fundamentally flawed and transported passengers anyway just seems unconscionable–his arrogance / ignorance was his undoing (and unfortunately that of the passengers as well)

    DaveGinOly in reply to texansamurai. | June 29, 2023 at 2:22 pm

    I think the idea here (even expounded by Rush) that the thickness of the hull precluded the ability to detect defects within it. If so, then that should have ruled against the material’s use, as it would result in a vessel that couldn’t be periodically inspected for safety. Imagine building a commercial airliner with critical parts that couldn’t be inspected!

Invoking “forceful backup” with the risk of getting slapped down HARD. We are really ignoring the manufacturer of the carbon fiber pressure vessel. Spenser Composites. I haven’t heard them weigh in at all (not that I would expect them to as they are probably in the process of being sued). From what I can tell they are a very reputable company with the only relevant experience. They designed the carbon fiber pressure vessel for Steve Fossetts sub that he never used (he died before he could). Here is an interesting article from 2010 detailing the experience.

Hmm, scrolled up and the system decided to submit for me…

Continuing my point, this seems to be when Mr Rush got the idea for using carbon fiber. The setup with the titanium endcaps is very reminiscent of Mr. Fossetts. And I don’t see anyone speaking up to Mr. Fossett at the time to tell him of the risks. Maybe there was a “Halo effect” going on at that time. Maybe he died before anyone could speak up, though the craft was complete.

And the pundits saying Mr Rush was ignoring others, not testing, and being rash, doesn’t seem to jibe with using an established manufacturer who had done the testing and was trusted. Which set of “experts” do you listen to?

I am just worried we are taking the wrong lessons from this tragedy.

RandomCrank | June 29, 2023 at 3:40 pm

Reminds me of the O-rings on the space shuttle. But at least that one generated my all-time favorite Wall Street trader joke. Before they started taping trading rooms, nothing was sacred.

Q: What were Christa McAuliffe’s last words?

A: “Hey guys, what’s this button for?”

    RandomCrank in reply to RandomCrank. | June 29, 2023 at 3:42 pm


    Q: How did they know the astronauts had dandruff?

    A: “Their head and shoulders washed up on the beach.”

    Those were the days. LOL

BierceAmbrose | June 30, 2023 at 2:50 am

That CEO’s bio and PR feel odd. He doesn’t sound like a flight test engineer — a job featured in his company bio, or an aeronautics engineer — his education. The company PR and press barely mention his pretty lengthy VC time.

This riff sounds a lot more like a VC / newtech company founder than an engineer: “I’ve done the math, I’m confident in my engineering and kind of just went down a path of really kind of thumbing the nose of the classing agencies.”

Can you hear the tech startup mindset? “Our business model says it’ll work this way.” and “You just don’t get it; it’s the new, new thing.”

That kind of boldness can work out great when you can survive the cork up from the thing you missed. But, you gotta live through it to use what you learned. The Zucker-bot’s “Move fast and break things.” worked because the experiements were cheap — breakage didn’t end the game.

    ObieWanKanObie in reply to BierceAmbrose. | July 2, 2023 at 3:04 pm

    Agreed. It’s all very odd.

    Reminds me of Ghislane Maxwell’s “TerraMar” project, “opening the oceans”. Would not surprise me if OceanGate was funded by the same source and/or had some of the same people on their boards.

BierceAmbrose | July 1, 2023 at 10:23 pm

Kudos to the Cmdr(*). I miss reading things like the above article.

(*) This is the rank I can find, from the linked article. No final rank noticed in the author’s LI bio. I was taught the convention that retired officers are referred to with their final rank.