Banging sounds have been detected in the frantic effort to locate the missing Titan sub before its passengers run out of oxygen.
The submersible went missing on Sunday, 700 kilometers (435 miles) off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Contact was lost with the crew an hour and 45 minutes into its dive.
However, it has emerged that OceanGate, the company behind the dive, was repeatedly warned that the Titan had several serious safety flaws.
In a 2018 lawsuit, David Lochridge—who began working as OceanGate’s director of marine operations in 2015—alleged that he was sacked after pointing out to the company that the submersible had not been built or tested to suitable safety standards, potentially putting passengers “milliseconds from implosion.”
Lochridge, a qualified submarine pilot and underwater inspector with “extensive experience,” was trained to “recognize flaws and points of failure in subsea equipment,” he said in court filings seen by Fortune.
His duties involved “ensuring the safety of all crew and clients during submersible and surface operations,” Lochridge said.
During Lochridge’s tenure with the company, OceanGate was in the process of developing the Titan—the submersible that disappeared in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean on Sunday.
The company has been operating private voyages on board the Titan to see the Titanic shipwreck since 2021.
In his 2018 court filings, Lochridge labeled the Titan “an experimental submersible” and listed a series of serious design and testing problems that he said put passengers hoping to see the Titanic’s remains at risk.
During a meeting at its facility in Everett, Wash., concerns about “evident flaws” relating to the Titan’s construction were raised, prompting CEO Stockton Rush to ask Lochridge to carry out a quality inspection. According to Lochridge, Rush labeled him “the best man for the job” as he had the most experience working with submersibles.
OceanGate confirmed to Fortune on Tuesday that Rush was currently on board the Titan.
As he worked on his report, Lochridge said he requested documents from OceanGate’s engineering director about the design of the Titan’s window and pressure tests that had been conducted on it. However, he alleged to have been “met with hostility and denial of access to the necessary documentation that should have been freely available as a part of his inspection process.”
Lochridge subsequently raised concerns over this and other safety and quality control issues regarding the Titan to the company’s executive team, he said in court documents—but he claimed his concerns were ignored.
Materials and testing
Among his concerns was the materials used on the Titan. Instead of using the industry standard metallic composition for its hull, Lochridge said in the lawsuit, the Titan’s hull was composed of carbon fiber. OceanGate wanted the Titan to carry passengers to “extreme depths” of 4,000 meters, Lochridge said—a depth never before reached by a manned OceanGate vessel comprised of carbon fiber.
A submersible vessel’s hull is the structure that provides its occupants with a dry, pressure-resistant environment.
According to MIT, submersibles’ pressure hulls are usually made of steel, aluminum, titanium, acrylic plastic, and glass, with steel being the most widely used material due to its “outstanding performance in the ocean.”
Lochridge was also anxious about the lack of non-destructive testing performed on the Titan’s hull. He said he had been repeatedly told that due to the hull’s thickness, no form of equipment existed to sufficiently perform the tests.
Lochridge warned that the constant pressure on the Titan as it traveled deeper underwater would weaken any existing structural flaws, resulting in large tears to its carbon components. It was crucial, he said, to conduct non-destructive testing so that a solid and safe product could be provided for both passengers and crew.
Diving the submersible “without any non-destructive testing to prove its integrity” would “subject passengers to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible,” Lochridge said in legal documents.
However, OceanGate allegedly told Lochridge that instead of carrying out the testing, it would install an acoustic monitoring system in the submersible to detect the start of any potential hull breakdown.
Lochridge expressed concern that such an acoustic system would not be able to detect existing flaws. It would simply flag components that were about to fail, he warned—which often happened “milliseconds before an implosion.”
In early 2018, Lochridge issued his inspection report on the Titan. He said he offered corrective action recommendations for each of the individual problems.
“With Cyclops 2 (Titan) being handed off from Engineering to Operations in the coming weeks, now is the time to properly address items that may pose a safety risk to personnel,” Lochridge wrote in his report. “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.”
OceanGate called a meeting the day after he issued his report, with several executives including the CEO in attendance.
During the meeting, Lochridge said he discovered that the Titan’s window was certified to a pressure of 1,300 meters below sea level. OceanGate intended to take passengers on the Titan down to depths of 4,000 meters.
According to OceanGate’s website, the Titan reaches a maximum depth of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) on its Titanic dives.
However, Lochridge alleged that the company refused to pay for the Titan’s manufacturer to build a viewport (window) that would meet the required standards for these depths.
He also said in the lawsuit that paying passengers would not be aware or informed of the Titan’s “experimental [window] design,” the lack of sufficient safety testing of the hull, or that hazardous flammable materials had been used in its construction. He said he strongly urged the company to use a classification agency like the American Bureau of Shipping to inspect and certify the Titan.
However, he claimed that instead of taking his safety concerns on board, OceanGate immediately fired him.
“OceanGate gave Lochridge approximately 10 minutes to immediately clear out his desk and exit the premises,” his lawyers alleged.
A spokesperson for OceanGate was not immediately available for comment on the 2018 lawsuit, which was settled between the parties before it reached the courts.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday it was working with Canadian authorities to conduct a search of the area where the sub disappeared, and that aerial searches, surface vessels, and sonar were being used in the recovery mission.
The Coast Guard estimated that the Titan had between 70 and 96 hours of emergency oxygen available.
According to OceanGate’s website, the Titan is stocked with 96 hours of “life support” for five crew members.
Billionaire entrepreneur Hamish Harding, businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son, Suleman, and French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet are on board the Titan with OceanGate CEO Rush.