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Whistleblower was fired for raising concerns on missing Titanic submersible

An OceanGate exec was allegedly fired in 2018 after raising concern regarding the safety of the submersible that went missing while touring the Titanic on Sunday

OceanGate

OceanGate

BS Web Team New Delhi

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Former Director of marine operations at OceanGate, David Lochridge was allegedly fired after raising concerns about the submersible that went missing on Sunday.

David Lochridge had doubts about the "first-of-a-kind carbon fibre hull" in the submersible as well as other systems before its maiden voyage in 2018. This was uncovered in a lawsuit filed by Lochridge in the same year and first reported on by Insider and the New Republic.

David Lochridge was a submarine pilot and inspector who joined OceanGate, a tour firm that organises expeditions to the historic wreck site of the Titanic, in 2015.

He was terminated from his position in January 2018 after being accused by the firm of violating a nondisclosure agreement. However, Lochridge countersued the company, claiming he was removed from the post for being a whistleblower.

In the court records, as per Insider's report, Lochridge stated that the 22-foot submersible called the Titan, would often detect a failure in the vessel "milliseconds before implosion."

The court filing also added that there were “numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns,” including "visible flaws" in the carbon fibre that was supplied to the firm. These flaws had the potential to cause larger tears when the submersible would inevitably face major pressure when it made its descent into the ocean floor of the Atlantic.  

Lochridge had also noted that there were flaws in the model of the hull itself. He recommended a "non-destructive testing" of the Titan's hull was needed to ensure the vessel was safe for expeditions. After presenting his findings in a quality control report of the vessel to the senior management of OceanGate, including CEO Stockton Rush, Lochridge was fired.

He was told that testing in the magnitude that he had recommended would not be possible and OceanGate instead chose to rely on an acoustic monitoring system. These acoustic sensors, according to OceanGate, could listen for sounds that would indicate deterioration of the carbon fibres in the hull and act as an "early warning" for the pilots, giving them enough time to turn back and return to the surface.

The court filing by Lochridge in 2018, 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 has been dismissed on several occasions, so I feel now I must make this report so there is an official record in place.”

At the time, the Titan was not being used for deep-sea dives.

According to a report by TechCrunch, the hull was made by Spencer Composites, a company that had previously created a carbon fiber hull, at the request of explorer Steve Fossett, for a manned submersible. Fossett wanted to embark on a record-breaking dive, however, he passed away in a light aircraft crash before the feat could be attempted. While carbon composites can simultaneously be stronger and lighter than steel, they are also prone to sudden failures when put under pressure and stress, added the report.

While the submersible has lost contact with its support ship, it is still unknown whether there was a problem in the submersible itself that is responsible for the vessel's sudden disappearance.

It is also unknown if Lochridge's concerns were addressed in the three years between his departure and the beginning of the expeditions to the Titanic site.

Search and rescue operations for the missing submersible continue.

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First Published: Jun 21 2023 | 7:08 PM IST

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