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Titan tragedy: curse or carelessness?

Titan tragedy: curse or carelessness?

The latest exploration of the Titanic wreck by OceanGate Expeditions’ Titan submarine ended in tragedy, with the disappearance of five passengers, including two wealthy British businessmen and the son of one of them. The question of responsibility for one too many luxury expeditions is now being raised… With a choice between a curse or foreseeable causes denounced by a whistleblower back in 2018.


In 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank on her maiden voyage. Of the 2,224 passengers and crew, 1,500 perished in the disaster.



101 years later, on June 18, 2023, the Titan tourist submarine, with five people on board, dived to visit the wreck of the Titanic. But after only 1 hour 45 minutes of descent, and despite the fact that the destination – the wreck – should have been reached in two and a half hours, communication was interrupted for good. The Titan did not return to the surface in the evening as planned. Four days later, despite an intense mobilization of rescue resources, the Titan’s wreckage was spotted by a robot some 488 meters from that of the liner. No passageway had survived its probable implosion.


Curse or risk-taking?


In the wake of this tragedy, the superstitious will say that the Titanic curse has struck again. The more rational will observe that all exploration involves risks. And that failure is just as likely as success…


Since the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, 650 kilometers off the Canadian coast, at a depth of 4,000 meters, and the release of James Cameron’s cult film in 1997, the dramatic story of this vanished liner has never ceased to fascinate.


Countless expeditions by scientists, treasure seekers and tourists alike have since taken place.


Since 2021, OceanGate Expeditions has been one of the many companies offering submarine excursions, and claims to be one of the few able to visit the wreck itself.


A $250,000 expedition


On its website, OceanGate Expeditions presented this 10-day trip, eight of which would be at sea, including the famous 10-hour maximum dive, as a “chance to get away from everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary“.


While this promise may sound strange today, it was enough to entice many a tourist. Even if the cost of such a trip – $250,000 (nearly 230,000 euros) – is not for everyone.


In late 2022, Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions and one of the five people who went missing with the Titan, told CBS that his company was attracting many “Titaniacs“, fanatics of its story who “would mortgage their homes or not even bat an eyelid at the cost of this trip“.


However, the profile of the three passengers who took part in this expedition was not that of Mr. Everyman.


Two wealthy businessmen


They included wealthy entrepreneur Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his son Suleman, 19. This Pakistani-British man was vice-president of the Engro conglomerate based in Karachi, in southern Pakistan. Engro is active in several sectors, from energy and telecommunications to agriculture and petrochemicals.



The third passenger was also a wealthy British businessman, Hamish Harding, 58. The CEO of private jet sales company Action Aviation had already made headlines in the world of luxury tourism for thrill-seekers.


A Cambridge University graduate in natural sciences and chemical engineering, Harding was one of only a handful of happy few tourists to have flown into space. In 2022, Harding embarked on a ten-minute flight aboard the New Shepard rocket, the fifth commercial flight of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company.


Guinness World Record


He also set several Guinness World Records.


In the air, he flew around the world via the two poles in the fastest time (46 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds).


On land, he explored the South Pole several times in 2016, notably in the company of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who became the oldest man (86) to reach this extreme point.


But he also took one of his wife Linda’s two sons, Giles, along on the adventure. At the age of 12, Giles became the youngest person ever to reach the South Pole!


Under the sea, Hamish Harding set a world diving record in 2021, diving to a depth of almost 11,000 meters in a pocket submarine, the Challenger Deep.


Before disappearing with the Titan, Hamisch Harding had shared on social networks his pride in taking part in what would be the first and probably only mission to the Titanic this year, due to the worst winter observed in Newfoundland, the expedition’s starting point, in 40 years.




The other two passengers were also adventurers. Frenchman Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, was a former naval officer, maritime archaeology enthusiast and deep-sea explorer. In 1987, he became head of deep-sea intervention submarines at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer), which was involved in the wreck’s recovery in 1985. Paul-Henri Nargeolet then dived on numerous occasions with the Nautile, bringing hundreds of Titanic objects to the surface.


He went on to become director of the underwater research program for Premier Exhibitions, RMS Titanic, Inc, the owner of the wreck. He had spoken of the risks he took aboard the Titan.


Whether you’re 11 meters down or 11 kilometers down, if something bad happens, the result is the same,” he had said. “When you’re in very deep water, you’re dead before you realize what’s happening, so it’s not a problem.


A daredevil inventor


For his part, Stockton Rush, 61, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, which he founded in 2009, was nicknamed “the daredevil inventor“.


This no-holds-barred man began exploring the skies at the age of 19 in 1981, becoming the world’s youngest jet transport pilot. In 1985, he became a flight test engineer on F-15 fighter jets at McDonnell Douglas.


But for the past twenty years or so, he had been interested in the ocean, driving several tech companies, such as BlueView Technologies, a manufacturer of small high-frequency sonar systems. With OceanGate Expeditions, he took tourists on board the submersible he had built.


What explanation could there be?


Until the tragedy… Here again, depending on their temperament, observers will see a more or less rational cause.


Some may see in it the shadow of Wendy Rush’s ancestors. Stockton’s widow is a descendant of Isodor and Ida Straus, victims of the Titanic … The magnate founder of Macy’s department stores and his wife are considered the richest couple to have perished in the Titanic disaster. Are they taking revenge for being disturbed in their deep sleep?


Dismissed whistle-blower


But the causes of the sinking could be much more down-to-earth. According to some media reports, Stockton Rush had sacked its marine operations manager in 2018 for blowing the whistle on safety issues posed by the Titan…


OceanGate Expeditions, meanwhile, praised the submersible’s resistance to the enormous pressures of the deep ocean, “made of titanium and filament-wound carbon fiber” and featuring “the largest porthole of any deep-sea submersible” offering “an unrivalled view“. This time, alas, it was a view of the Beyond…



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