Late last week, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it believed all five of the passengers aboard the Titan submersible likely died when their vessel imploded during a voyage down to the Titanic shipwreck.
In the announcement, which followed a massive search and rescue mission spanning several days, officials stated that several major pieces of debris were located on the seafloor roughly 1,600 feet from the site of the Titanic.
The discovery supports experts’ assumptions that the Titan suffered a catastrophic implosion amid intense water pressure in the deep North Atlantic Ocean that likely killed the pilot and four passengers instantly.
What We Know About the Titan Submersible Implosion
Titan was a submersible vessel operated by the Washington-based tourism and expeditions company OceanGate. Measuring 22 feet and weighing approximately 23,000 pounds, the five-person sub was used to transport paying customers to underwater sites, including the site of the Titanic wreckage.
Here’s what we know about the timeline of Titan’s last trip:
- Titan began its dive to the Titanic from Newfoundland, Canada on the morning of June 18th and communicated with surface crew via safety pings emitted by the vessel every 15 minutes for the first hour and half of its two-hour descent.
- Communication stopped after a recorded communication at 11:15 a.m. and the vessel did not resurface at its expected time later that afternoon.
- The U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the missing vessel at 7:10pm. Because the sub was equipped with up to 96 hours of breathable air supply, a multi-national search and rescue effort was conducted through June 22.
Victims of Titan Submersible Implosion
The victims of the Titan implosion have been identified as:
Shahzada Dawood: Mr. Dawood was a 48-year-old British-Pakistani businessman with a background in textiles and fertilizer manufacturing. He was a member of one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families.
Suleman Dawood: Shahzada Dawood’s 19-year-old son. Suleman Dawood was a business student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. He and his father were on a journey to visit the remnants of the Titanic.
Hamish Harding: Mr. Harding was a 58-year-old British businessman and explorer who held several Guinness World Records, including one for the longest time spent journeying through the deepest part of the ocean on a single dive. The chairman of Action Aviation, a sales and air operations company based in Dubai, Mr. Harding previously flew to space on a mission by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket company.
Paul-Henri Nargeolet: Mr. Nargeolet was a French maritime expert who made over 35 dives to the Titanic wreck site. He was the director of underwater research for RMS Titanic, Inc., a company that maintains the salvage rights to the Titanic shipwreck site. The American company displays many artifacts in Titanic exhibitions. He was 77 years old.
Stockton Rush: Mr. Rush was the founder and CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the company that operated the submersible that imploded during the Titanic dive. He was piloting the submersible when the incident occurred.
Was the Titan a Submarine?
No, the Titan was a submersible. Generally speaking, a submersible is a small, uncrewed underwater vessel used for exploration or research. A submarine is a larger, manned underwater vessel designed primarily for military operations. Submersibles require oxygen tanks while submarines generate their own oxygen and can stay underwater for months.
Safety, Legal Questions Loom Large
Titan’s disappearance and officials’ tragic announcement that the vessel likely imploded have raised many questions about the safety of submersibles used in adventure tourism.
While OceanGate had made the trip to the Titanic a total of 13 times since 2021, the company had been scrutinized over a number of safety concerns.
This includes a November 2022 incident in which the submersible experienced communication errors, failed to make it to the wreck site, and was lost for several hours, and a 2018 open letter from dozens of oceanographers and deep-sea explorers cautioning OceanGate that its “experimental” approach could have “catastrophic consequences.”
According to experts, one of those catastrophic consequences was the risk of implosion caused by intense pressure at extreme depths. While cramped with a maximum of five seated passengers, Titan’s larger internal volume and elongated tube shape meant it was subject to more external pressure. Its carbon fiber and titanium construction, though promoted by OceanGate as being lighter and more efficient to mobilize, also meant that the Titan could have been more vulnerable to excessive and repeated stress experienced during its dives. At the location of the Titanic wreckage 12,500 below the surface, water pressure is as high as 6,000 pounds per square inch.
Now, as investigators and experts begin to look more closely into what happened, many important questions remain. Some of these questions focus on issues such as:
- Whether the unconventional design of the Titan may have contributed to its implosion.
- Whether OceanGate knew of its vessel’s potentially catastrophic flaws but failed to address them.
- Whether Titan complied with regulations applicable to deep-sea explorations.
In addition to finding out what happened and whether such tragedies can be prevented in the future, the Titan tragedy has also raised legal questions – specifically as it relates to the liability waivers signed by passengers. These waivers, according to the Associated Press, required passengers to acknowledge risks of injury, disability, trauma, and death while aboard the Titan and to waive their right to legal action for “personal injury, property damage, or any other loss.”
These waivers could become a major barrier to justice as the families of those who died explore their options for pursuing answers, accountability, and compensation for their damages.
“First and foremost, Oceangate was pushing the envelope with its submersible and may have ignored well accepted engineering principles resulting in this tragedy. Although the passengers signed waivers, gross negligence on the part of Oceangate may weaken them. This determination will be made once the investigation is completed.” said wrongful death attorney Timothy Loranger.
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