Engineer says OceanGate CEO ignored warnings against use of carbon fiber for sub

ByLena Howland KGO logo
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Just days after the catastrophic implosion of a submersible, which killed five people on their trip to see the Titanic wreckage, a local deep sea engineer out of Alameda, California says OceanGate's CEO ignored their early warning signs that the sub's material wasn't safe.

"We all told him, someone is going to be killed in this thing and you've got to not do it," Liz Taylor, president of DOER Marine Operations said.

The video in the player above is from a previous report.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush paid a visit to Alameda back in 2015, while he was in the thick of building his submersible, to meet with Taylor.

Taylor is a deep sea engineer and President of DOER (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research) Marine Operations, where they build their own submersibles.

RELATED: Titanic submersible: Underwater cinematographer says excursion was 'disaster waiting to happen'

Experienced underwater cinematographer Al Giddings who also worked on the film "Titanic," says the sub excursion was a "disaster waiting to happen."

He wanted to hear her findings from a research project called '"Project Deep Search."

"Stockton felt like he was pushing the edge, he wanted to push the envelope, use some new materials," she said.

And that's when Taylor specifically advised against the use of carbon fiber, as it's still experimental and has not been tested over time in extreme depths of the ocean.

"With the carbon fiber, it's been shown to not be very happy when it's being immersed first of all and then being hollow on the inside or just one atmosphere on the inside and then having the tremendous pressure of the ocean trying to push in on it, it's not the right material," she said.

Then, in 2018, the manned submersible committee of the Marine Technology Society, backed her up, writing a letter also urging Rush not to proceed.

Ignoring all warnings, he moved forward using carbon fiber on his submersible.

RELATED: Sub's carbon-fiber composite hull was the 'critical failure,' James Cameron says

"Where this really went kind of askew, was that he was like, I don't need that," she said. "I've done the math, I'm confident in my engineering and kind of just went down a path of really kind of thumbing the nose of the classing agencies."

Taylor says Rush cut obvious corners, like not building his sub in a pair to have self-rescue capacity or with what's called an ROV.

That's a remotely operated vehicle that can serve as a self-rescue tool.

"There was no capable ROV on board, there was no second submersible," she said.

And she says, because Rush was technically operating in international waters, there was no way of stopping him.

"Through this combination of hubris, complacency, and greed, it was incredibly frustrating and so sad for the families, that they didn't have, maybe they just had no idea of the true level of risk that they were putting themselves at," she said.