Titan Sub: OceanGate CEO Didn’t Want to Hire ’50-Year-Old White Guys’ Because They’re Not ‘Inspirational’

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by Chris Menahan, Information Liberation:

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who went missing aboard his Titan submersible vessel along with four other passengers on Sunday, told an interviewer he didn’t want to hire a bunch of “50-year-old white guys” like other submarine companies because he wanted his team to be “inspirational.”

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“When I started the business, one of the things you’ll find, there are other sub-operators out there but they typically have gentleman who are ex-military submariners and you’ll see a whole bunch of 50-year-old white guys,” Rush told a representative with Teledyne Marine.

“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 you know who’s a subpilot or a platform operator or one of our techs can be inspirational,” Rush continued. “So we’ve really tried to to get very intelligent, motivated, younger individuals involved because we’re doing things that are completely new.”

“We’re taking approaches that are used largely in the aerospace industry, is related to safety and some of the the preponderance of checklists things we do for risk assessments and things like that, that are more aviation related than ocean related and we can train people to do that. We can train someone to pilot the sub, we use a game controller so anybody can drive the sub.”

Rush’s Titan sub went missing on June 18th while descending to the Titanic wreck site off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada in the Atlantic Ocean and has not been heard from since.

“On Tuesday, US Coast Guard officials said at a 1 p.m. ET news conference that the submersible has about 40 hours of oxygen left,” CNN reported.

“The depth of the area where they went missing could pose a challenge. The deepest ever underwater rescue was that of Roger Chapman and Roger Mallinson, who were rescued from the Pisces III submersible at depths of 1,575 feet in 1973. They were trapped for 76 hours before finally being hauled to the surface,” CNN continued. “The Titanic wreckage is much deeper, sitting nearly 13,000 feet below sea level.”

Former OceanGate director of marine operations David Lochridge — a 50-year-old (or 51-year-old) white guy — reportedly warned OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush that his sub tech was not safe and was fired for his trouble.

Former OceanGate director of marine operations David Lochridge — one of those “50-year-old white guys” Rush wanted to avoid hiring for not being “inspirational” enough — was fired by Rush in 2018 after he reportedly blew the whistle on OceanGate by raising safety concerns over their first-of-a-kind carbon fiber hull and other systems.

From TechCrunch, “A whistleblower raised safety concerns about OceanGate’s submersible in 2018. Then he was fired.”:

David Lochridge was terminated in January 2018 after presenting a scathing quality control report on the vessel to OceanGate’s senior management, including founder and CEO Stockton Rush, who is on board the missing vessel.

According to a court filing by Lochridge, the preamble to his report read: “Now is the time to properly address items that may pose a safety risk to personnel. Verbal communication of the key items I have addressed in my attached document have been dismissed on several occasions, so I feel now I must make this report so there is an official record in place.”

The report detailed “numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns,” according to the filing. These included Lochridge’s worry that “visible flaws” in the carbon fiber supplied to OceanGate raised the risk of small flaws expanding into larger tears during “pressure cycling.” These are the huge pressure changes that the submersible would experience as it made its way and from the deep ocean floor. He noted that a previously tested scale model of the hull had “prevalent flaws.”

Carbon fiber composites can be stronger and lighter than steel, making a submersible naturally buoyant. But they can also be prone to sudden failure under stress. The hull that Lochridge was writing about was made by Spencer Composites, the only company to have previously made a carbon fiber hull for a manned submersible. (That submersible was commissioned by explorer Steve Fossett for a record-breaking dive, but he died in a light aircraft crash before it could be used.)

Lochridge’s recommendation was that non-destructive testing of the Titan’s hull was necessary to ensure a “solid and safe product.” The filing states that Lochridge was told that such testing was impossible, and that OceanGate would instead rely on its much touted acoustic monitoring system.

The company claims this technology, developed in-house, uses acoustic sensors to listen for the tell-tale sounds of carbon fibers in the hull deteriorating to provide “early warning detection for the pilot with enough time to arrest the descent and safely return to surface.”

Lochridge, however, worried in the lawsuit that the system would not reveal flaws until the vessel was descending, and then might only provide “milliseconds” of warning before a catastrophic implosion.

Russell McDuff, a veteran oceanographer and chairman of OceanGate’s scientific and research foundation for three years, noted that contact with the Titan was lost on Sunday after only an hour and 45 minutes. “This suggests to me that they might have still been in the water column, descending to the Titanic,” told TechCrunch in a phone interview.

Lochridge also strongly encouraged OceanGate to have a classification agency, such as the American Bureau of Shipping, inspect and certify the Titan.

A day after filing his report, Lochridge was summoned to a meeting with Rush and company’s human resources, engineering and operations directors. There, the filing states, he was also informed that the manufacturer of the Titan’s forward viewport would only certify it to a depth of 1,300 meters due to OceanGate’s experimental design. The filing states that OceanGate refused to pay for the manufacturer to build a viewport that would meet the Titan’s intended depth of 4,000 meters. The Titanic lies about 3,800 meters below the surface.

The filing also claims that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.

At the end of the meeting, after saying that he would not authorize any manned tests of Titan without a scan of the hull, Lochridge was fired and escorted from the building.

Lochridge, who claimed he was discharged in retaliation for being a whistleblower, made his filing after OceanGate sued him in federal court in Seattle that June. OceanGate has accused him of sharing confidential information with two individuals, as well as with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the lawsuit, OceanGate characterized Lochridge’s report as false, and accused him of committing fraud by manufacturing a reason to be fired.

TechCrunch reported “the lawsuit was settled in November 2018” and “neither OceanGate nor Lochridge responded to requests for comment.”

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