The tourist submersible that went missing while exploring the Titanic wreck was previously the target of safety complaints from an employee of OceanGate, the parent company that owns the sub and runs tourist expeditions of the wreck. That employee complained specifically that the sub was not capable of descending to such extreme depths before he was fired.
That’s according to legal documents obtained by The New Republic. According to the court documents, in a 2018 case, OceanGate employee David Lochridge, a submersible pilot, voiced concerns about the safety of the sub. According to a press release, Lochridge was director of marine operations at the time, “responsible for the safety of all crew and clients.”
The concerns Lochridge voiced came to light as part of a breach of contract case related to Lochridge refusing to greenlight manned tests of the early models of the submersible over safety concerns. Lochridge was fired, and then OceanGate sued him for disclosing confidential information about the Titan submersible. In response, Lochridge filed a compulsory counterclaim where he alleged wrongful termination over being a whistleblower about the quality and safety of the submersible.
Lochridge, in his counterclaim, alleged that “rather than addressing Lochridge’s concerns, OceanGate instead summarily terminated Lochridge’s employment in efforts to silence Lochridge and to avoid addressing the safety and quality control issues.”
The counterclaim said that:
Given the prevalent flaws in the previously tested 1/3 scale model, and the visible flaws in the carbon end samples for the Titan, Lochridge again stressed the potential danger to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths. The constant pressure cycling weakens existing flaws resulting in large tears of the carbon. Non-destructive testing was critical to detect such potentially existing flaws in order to ensure a solid and safe product for the safety of the passengers and crew.
The counterclaim also details a meeting at OceanGate’s Everett, Washington, facility with engineering staff where “several individuals had expressed concerns over to the Engineering Director.” The OceanGate CEO, Stockton Rush, asked Lochridge to conduct a quality inspection of the Titan. Per the complaint:
Over the course of the next several days, Lochridge worked on his report and requested paperwork from the Engineering Director regarding the viewport design and pressure test results of the viewport for the Titan, along with other key information. Lochridge was met with hostility and denial of access to the necessary documentation that should have been freely available as part of his inspection process.
Lochridge initially verbally expressed concerns about the safety and quality of the Titan submersible to OceanGate executive management, but those concerns were ignored. Lochridge “identified numerous issues that posed serious safety concerns, and offered corrective action and recommendations for each.” Lochridge was particularly concerned about “non-destructive testing performed on the hull of the Titan” but he was “repeatedly told that no scan of the hull or Bond Line could be done to check for delaminations, porosity and voids of sufficient adhesion of the glue being used due to the thickness of the hull.” He was also told there was no such equipment that could conduct a test like that.
After Lochridge issued his inspection report, OceanGate officials convened a meeting on January 19, 2018, with the CEO, human resources director, engineering director, Lochridge, and the operations director. Per the complaint:
At the meeting Lochridge discovered why he had been denied access to the viewport information from the Engineering department—the viewport at the forward of the submersible was only built to a certified pressure of 1,300 meters, although OceanGate intended to take passengers down to depths of 4,000 meters. Lochridge learned that the viewport manufacturer would only certify to a depth of 1,300 meters due to experimental design of the viewport supplied by OceanGate, which was out of the Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy (“PVHO”) standards. OceanGate refused to pay for the manufacturer to build a viewport that would meet the required depth of 4,000 meters.
The Titanic is estimated to sit on the ocean floor at a depth of nearly 4,000 meters.
Paying passengers wouldn’t know or be informed about Lochridge’s concerns, according to his complaints. They also wouldn’t be informed “that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.” Lochridge expressed concerns about the Titan again. But OceanGate didn’t address those concerns, and Lochridge was fired.
The case between Lochridge and OceanGate didn’t advance much further, and a few months later the two parties settled.