Missing Titanic submersible that faced a lawsuit over safety is also a PR disaster for Elon Musk

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulJun 21, 2023 | 16:05

Missing Titanic submersible that faced a lawsuit over safety is also a PR disaster for Elon Musk

The lost sub also had the OceanGate founder and CEO onboard.(Photo: Getty/ OceanGate) 

It has been nearly 70 hours since the disappearance of an OceanGate submersible, which carried five individuals including the OceanGate CEO, during an exploration of the Titanic wreckage off the coast of Newfoundland, and no contact has been established with the vessel. Apart from Rush, the submersible has onboard British billionaire adventure seeker Hamish Harding, British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Sulaiman, and French navigator Paul Henri-Nargeolet.


The submersible lost communication with the command ship within two hours of the dive on Sunday, June 18, prompting joint rescue operations by American and Canadian authorities.

Starlink link failed?

This incident raises questions about a possible malfunction in the communication system between the submersible and the command ship, which relied on Elon Musk's Starlink service.

  • Neither Starlink nor Elon Musk, the CEO of Twitter and SpaceX, have commented on the communication failure.
  • However, there is currently no evidence implicating Starlink in the submarine's disappearance.
  • OceanGate Expeditions, the operator of the submarine, had previously commended and expressed gratitude for the Internet connectivity provided by Musk's Starlink service, which allowed them to stay connected during their expeditions.

For this disappearance to occur, it is likely that not only the Internet service but other technical aspects of the submersible too may have failed. The sub should have resurfaced using one of its seven resurfacing mechanisms after losing communication, but this has not yet occurred, indicating a different type of malfunction.


David Pogue's story

  • CBS correspondent David Pogue, who had toured the submarine and produced a feature story on it before a voyage, revealed that the vessel had been lost for approximately five hours during the time he was on board.
  • He mentioned that the crew was capable of sending short texts during that period but could not locate the sub exactly.
  • What is dodgier is that the company had disabled Internet access on the command ship to prevent any journalist from tweeting about the sub's situation.
  • When the submersible surfaced after five hours of going missing, it had not been able to locate the Titanic wreckage.
  • This prompted the OceanGate CEO, Stockton Rush, to offer them a 'free do-over' the following year. 
  • Pogue clarified on Twitter that he was in the command vessel on the surface, not inside the sub.

Lawsuits and concerns ignored

  • Another incident involving the OceanGate expedition came to light when David Lochridge, a submersible pilot with the company, said that he had flagged safety concerns over the depth the sub could dive to.
  • He also highlighted flaws in previously tested models and visible flaws in the carbon end samples of the Titan submersible.
  • OceanGate intended to take passengers to depths of 4,000 metres, but the submersible's forward viewport was only certified to a depth of 1,300 metres, violating standards.
  • Lochridge, in the court statement, alleged that “rather than addressing Lochridge’s concerns, OceanGate instead summarily terminated Lochridge’s employment in efforts to silence Lochridge and to avoid addressing the safety and quality control issues.”
  • However, later both parties settled the dispute before the news flared up.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said that exploration carries an inherent risk on the "Unsung Science" podcast, hosted by CBS correspondent David Pogue in November 2022.

At some point, safety just 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. 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.
- Stockton Rush

Several other abnormalities onboard including the Logitech gaming joystick steering the sub, just a single switch onboard, and so on have surfaced now, with the vessel going missing.

The observations by former voyagers and experts clearly point out that safety measures were not taken care of. Some even warned of potentially 'catastrophic problems' with the Titanic expedition. 

The kind of non-serious attempt to explore the Titanic, hopefully ends well as there are about 20-ish hours till the oxygen runs out.

Last updated: June 21, 2023 | 17:39
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