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Titan passengers share eerie accounts of safety issues on the submersible's past expeditions

Past passengers of the Titan have revealed they suffered communications failures and issues with navigation on their voyages.
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The Titan was touted as a groundbreaking submersible that could give tourists the extraordinary chance to visit the deep-sea grave of the Titanic — but past passengers have shared chilling accounts of safety issues, communication failures and design concerns.

The desperate search for the missing submersible ended Thursday with the Coast Guard announcing that debris from the vessel was found. The five passengers are presumed dead.

It brings a close to the four-day race to find the Titan after it lost contact with its mother ship during a Sunday dive to the Titanic, 12,500 feet below the surface.

The 21-foot, carbon fiber and titanium submersible fit five people, with no seats and a curtained-off area for a makeshift bathroom.

Malfunctions left passengers like 'sitting ducks'

Brian Weed, 42, a camera operator for Discovery Channel’s “Expedition Unknown,” did a test dive on the Titan in May 2021 and said, “The moment we started the test dive, things started going wrong.”

The submersible descended, but not all the way to the shipwreck.

The launch was “clumsy,” and less than a quarter of the dive in, “there were malfunctions with the propulsion system,” leaving the passengers like “sitting ducks in the water,” Weed said. 

“This was supposedly two months before they were supposed to take their first dive down to the Titanic, and that was very worrying for me. We were supposed to be on one of those first dives,” he said. 

He was also concerned that the door was bolted from the outside, saying, “There’s still a potential that there’s no way out even if you’re on the surface.”

But it was the allure of the Titanic — the ocean liner that sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912 — that drew him to the project.

“The thought of going down and seeing the Titanic really clouds your mind. You want this to be possible. You want this to be true. Your brain is willing to overlook some really glaring problems,” he said.

“The thought of going down and seeing the Titanic really clouds your mind. You want this to be possible. You want this to be true. Your brain is willing to overlook some really glaring problems.”

Brian Weed

Weed declined an invitation to dive again a week later.  

Weed, no stranger to risky situations, said that “something about this felt like there wasn’t a plan” and that “the reward is not worth the risk.”

Josh Gates, the host of “Expedition Unknown,” told NBC News’ Tom Costello on that dive: “We had issues with thruster control. We had issues with the computers aboard. We had issues with comms."

“I just felt as though the sub needed more time and it needed more testing, frankly,” he said.

OceanGate completed successful expeditions to the wreckage in 2021 and 2022 before the Titian disappeared on the third trip.

Lost communications; wandering for hours underwater

Colin Taylor, who went on the submersible when it explored the Titanic site last July with his 22-year-old son, described the communication system as “very difficult.”

Colin Taylor
A photo of Colin Taylor's voyage in July to the Titanic shipwreck with his 22-year-old son.Courtesy Colin Taylor

“There’s a text-based communication system that’s two-way, very slow,” he said. “I mean, when you’re sending signals through that amount of water, it’s very, very difficult.”

Mike Reiss, a writer and producer who has worked on “The Simpsons,” told ABC News he went on four 10-hour dives with OceanGate, including to the Titanic. The crews lost communication with the host ship each time.

When his vessel touched the bottom of the ocean on one of his OceanGate journeys to the Hudson Canyon, “a loud squawk came on the radio,” he recalled in an episode of the podcast “What Am I Doing Here?” that aired a year ago.

“The sonar, the computers, the lights all stopped working. We went back to the surface immediately,” he said.

Two years later, he took another expedition to the Titanic site in the submersible, describing it as “a car that you drunkenly drove into the ocean” steered by a video game controller.

When the team touched down, they faced a myriad of issues.

"We were nowhere near the Titanic. There were underwater currents pushing us farther and farther in the wrong direction. The sonar wasn’t working, and the compass kept flopping from east to west, north to south," he said. "There was also a time crunch. We started late, and there was a hurricane rolling in on the surface.”

David Pogue, a CBS News correspondent, tweeted that last year the submersible got “lost on the seafloor" for about five hours when he was on an OceanGate expedition to the Titanic’s resting place. A segment on the trip aired in November

Pogue wasn’t in the Titan — he was in a control room on a ship at the surface.

“They could still send short texts to the sub, but did not know where it was. It was quiet and very tense,” he tweeted Monday.

Former employee warned Titan's shell wasn't tested to descend deep safely

A former OceanGate pilot, David Lochridge, who was hired to run manned tests of submersibles, claimed five years ago in court papers that he was fired after he warned that the Titan’s carbon shell was not properly tested to ensure it could descend safely to 4,000 meters, the estimated depth of the Titanic. 

He also claimed OceanGate refused to pay extra for a viewport that could be used safely at a depth of 4,000 meters.

When he complained that OceanGate would be endangering customers, Lochridge said in the court papers, he was given “10 minutes to immediately clear out his desk.”

Lochridge’s claims, which were first reported by The New Republic, were in his counterclaim to a 2018 breach of contract lawsuit OceanGate filed saying he was not an engineer. The two sides settled a few months later. The details of the settlement were unclear.

Expeditions are always a 'risk'

Aaron Newman, a former passenger on the missing Titan and an investor in OceanGate, said he felt “safe” during his journey but acknowledged that risks are involved in such expeditions.

“They were a professional crew. They did a lot of training around safety and the backup systems around dropping weights,” Newman said. “We’re going places that a very few people have been. This is inventing things. There are risks, right? And we know that.”

Newman said the explorers on the missing submersible — OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, British billionaire Hamish Harding, French dive expert Paul Henry Nargeolet, and prominent Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman — are a “good set of people” who were likely doing what they could “to stay alive.”

Arthur Loibl, 61, a retired businessman and adventurer from Germany, went on a voyage to the Titanic site in 2021 with Rush and Nargeolet, he told The Associated Press

He said that while he was able to get a view of the iconic ocean liner, in hindsight he felt “a bit dubious” about how the dive was carried out. 

“I was a bit naive, looking back now,” he said. “It was a kamikaze operation.”