December 5, 2023

Director of Marine OceanGate, whose submersible allegedly went missing on the Titanic expedition in the North Atlantic on Sunday, has been fired after raising concerns about its pioneering carbon-fiber hull and other systems ahead of its maiden voyage. A 2018 lawsuit First reported by Insider and the New Republic.

David Lochridge was fired in January 2018 after submitting a draconian quality control report on the ship to OceanGate’s senior management, including founder and CEO Stockton Rush, who was reportedly on board the missing vessel. .

According to a court filing by Lochridge, the foreword to his report reads: “Now is the time to properly dispose of items that may pose a safety risk to personnel. My verbal communication on critical items mentioned in the attached document has been repeated several times. was dismissed, so I feel now I have to file this report so that there is an official record.”

According to the filing, the report details “numerous issues that create serious safety concerns.” These include Lochridge’s concern that “visible defects” in the carbon fiber supplied to OceanGate would increase the risk of small defects propagating into larger tears during “stress cycling”. These are the huge pressure changes a submersible will experience as it travels from the deep ocean floor. He noted that there were “general flaws” in the previously tested scale models of the hull.

Carbon fiber composites are stronger and lighter than steel, giving the submersible their natural buoyancy. But they are also prone to sudden failure under pressure. The hull that Lochridge writes about was made by Spencer Composites, the only company that had previously made carbon fiber hulls for manned submersibles. (The submersible was commissioned by explorer Steve Fawcett for a record-breaking dive, but he was killed in a light plane crash before it could be used.)

Lochridge’s suggestion was that the Titan’s hull must be tested non-destructively to ensure a “robust and safe product”. Lochridge was told such testing was impossible and OceanGate would instead rely on its much-touted acoustic monitoring system, the document says.

The company claims that this internally developed technology uses Acoustic sensors to listen for the sound of carbon fiber deterioration in the hull Provides pilots with “early warning detection, sufficient time to prevent a descent and return safely to the ground.”

However, Lochridge is concerned in the lawsuit that the system would not expose the flaw until the ship descends, and then might only provide “milliseconds” of warning before a catastrophic implosion.

Russell McDuff, a veteran oceanographer and chair of the OceanGate Science Research Foundation, noted that contact with Titan was lost on Sunday after just 1 hour and 45 minutes. “To me, that suggests they might still be in the water column, sinking down to the Titanic,” TechCrunch said in a phone interview.

Lochridge also strongly encouraged OceanGate to have the Titan inspected and certified by classification agencies such as the US Bureau of Shipping.

The day after the report was filed, Lochridge was summoned to a meeting with Rush and the company’s human resources, engineering and operations executives. While there, he was also told that because of OceanGate’s experimental design, the manufacturer of the Titan’s front viewport could only prove its depth to 1,300 meters, the filing said. OceanGate refused to pay the manufacturer to build observation windows to meet Titan’s expected depth of 4,000 meters, the document said. The Titanic is located approximately 3,800 meters below the surface of the sea.

The document also claims that dangerous flammable materials were used inside the submersible.

At the end of the meeting, Lockridge was fired and escorted out of the building after stating that he would not authorize Titan to conduct any manned tests without a hull scan.

Lochridge, who claims he was fired in retaliation for being a whistleblower, filed his papers after OceanGate sued him in Seattle federal court in June. OceanGate accused him of sharing confidential information with the two individuals and with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the lawsuit, OceanGate Characterize Lochridge’s report as false and accuse him of fraud By making grounds for dismissal.

The lawsuit was settled in November 2018. Neither OceanGate nor Lochridge responded to requests for comment. OSHA could not immediately provide details of the alleged report. OceanGate’s routine OSHA inspection in 2021 finds only Three minor workplace safety violations result in no financial penalty.

A few months after Lochridge was fired, the company Publish a blog post Lists the reasons for not having the Titan certified by the US Bureau of Shipping or similar.

“The vast majority of maritime (and aviation) accidents are the result of operator error rather than mechanical failure,” it wrote. “Consequently, focusing solely on the classification of ships does not address operational risk. Maintaining a high level of operational safety requires sustained, determined effort and a dedicated corporate culture – two things that OceanGate takes very seriously and fails to address during the classification process. Evaluate.”

In 2019, Rush gave a interview with smithsonian magazine, in which he said: “The commercial sub-industry hasn’t been hurt in 35-plus years. It’s pretty safe because they have all these regulations. But it’s also not innovating or growing — because they have all these regulations. “

After Lochridge’s departure, the Titans were tested for safety on deeper and deeper dives, including Bahamas4,000 mHowever, one of Lochridge’s fears appears to be confirmed soon. In January 2020, Rush gave an interview to GeekWire in which he admitted that the Titan’s hull “show signs of circulatory fatigueAs a result, the hull’s depth rating has been reduced to 3,000 meters. “Not enough to reach the Titanic,” Rush said.

During 2020 and 2021, Titan’s hull was repaired or rebuilt by two Washington state companies, Electroimpact and Janicki Industries, which primarily work in the aerospace industry. At the end of 2021, Titan is a success downhill for the first time to the wreck of the Titanic.

Spencer Composites said the Titan did not use its carbon fiber hull during Sunday’s dive. Presumably aside from the hull work, a source familiar with the company told TechCrunch that not much has changed on the Titan since 2018.

As of press time, the whereabouts of the Titan are still unknown, with Rush, French diver Paul-Henri Nagiolet, British billionaire Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and others reportedly on board. its son. A large-scale search and rescue operation is underway.

“They’re doing what they can,” McDuff said. “But I’m a little bit pessimistic because the time has passed.”