Five years before the tragedy in which the OceanGate Titan submersible imploded in the deep ocean during its journey to the Titanic, an expert pilot for OceanGate reportedly warned of his concern that the company’s CEO, Stockton Rush, “kills himself and others in the quest to boost his ego.”
David Lochridge, a submersible pilot and engineer who had served in Great Britain’s Royal Navy and worked all over the world, had expressed reservations about the design and build of OceanGate’s submersible, but his concerns were reportedly dismissed. He found numerous problems with the vessel, including the carbon-fiber hull having “very visible signs of delamination and porosity,” the glue for ballast bags coming off, sealing faces with errant plunge holes, and O-ring grooves whose design was not standard, among many others, The New Yorker reported. When Lochridge brought up his concerns at a company meeting, he was fired.
“I would consider myself pretty ballsy when it comes to doing things that are dangerous, but that sub is an accident waiting to happen,” Lochridge wrote to Rob McCallum, who co-founded a company called Eyos Expeditions and had taken tourists to the Titanic years before. “There’s no way on earth you could have paid me to dive the thing. … I don’t want to be seen as a Tattle tale but I’m so worried he kills himself and others in the quest to boost his ego.”
After Lochridge was fired, McCallum reportedly told him, “Stockton must be gutted. You were the star player … and the only one that gave me a hint of confidence.”
“I think you are going to [be] even more taken aback when I tell you what’s happening,” Lochridge answered, adding that he was concerned Rush might target him, saying, “We both know he has influence and money,” then adding, “That sub is not safe to dive.”
“Do you think the sub could be made safe to dive, or is it a complete lemon?” McCallum asked. “You will get a lot of support from people in the industry . . . . everyone is watching and waiting and quietly s***ting their pants.”
“It’s a lemon,” Lochridge replied tersely.
“He wanted me to run his Titanic operation for him,” McCallum said of Rush. “At the time, I was the only person he knew who had run commercial expedition trips to Titanic. Stockton’s plan was to go a step further and build a vehicle specifically for this multi-passenger expedition.”
After Rush made it clear he refused to have his submersible classed by a marine-certification agency, McCallum decided he did not want to be associated with OceanGate. “The minute that I found out that he was not going to class the vehicle, that’s when I said, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t be involved,’” he told The New Yorker.
“I can tell you that the class society has been nothing but supportive,” he told Rush. “They are actually part of our innovation process. We’re using the brainpower of their engineers to feed into our design.”
“Stockton didn’t like that,” McCallum remembered. “He didn’t like to be told that he was on the fringe.” He warned Rush, “You can’t cut corners in the deep. It’s not about being a disruptor. It’s about the laws of physics.”
“People would ring me, and say, ‘We’ve always wanted to go to Titanic. What do you think?’” he said. “And I would tell them, ‘Never get in an unclassed sub. I wouldn’t do it, and you shouldn’t, either.’”
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“I could not work for Stockton,” OceanGate’s director of finance and administration, whom Rush asked to take over as chief submersible pilot, recalled. “I did not trust him. It freaked me out that he would want me to be head pilot, since my background is in accounting.” She noted that several of the engineers for the company were in their late teens and early twenties. She quit as soon as she had another job lined up.
Lochridge sent OSHA investigator Paul McDevitt an inspection report in the hope that the government might intervene, prompting McDevitt to contact OceanGate. OceanGate’s lawyer then reportedly issued Lochridge a court summons saying he had ten days to withdraw his claim and pay OceanGate almost ten thousand dollars in legal expenses or OceanGate would sue him, wreck his reputation, and accuse him of immigration fraud. Lochridge ultimately withdrew his whistle-blower claim.
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