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The Elon Musk of the deep seas

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In the most pejorative sense possible:

A trove of tens of thousands of internal OceanGate emails, documents, and photographs provided exclusively to WIRED by anonymous sources sheds new light on Titan’s development, from its initial design and manufacture through its first deep-sea operations. The documents, validated by interviews with two third-party suppliers and several former OceanGate employees with intimate knowledge of Titan, reveal never-before-reported details about the design and testing of the submersible. They show that Boeing and the University of Washington were both involved in the early stages of OceanGate’s carbon-fiber sub project, although their work did not make it into the final Titan design. The trove also reveals a company culture in which employees who questioned their bosses’ high-speed approach and decisions were dismissed as overly cautious or even fired. (The former employees who spoke to WIRED have asked not to be named for fear of being sued by the families of those who died aboard the vessel.) Most of all, the documents show how Rush, blinkered by his own ambition to be the Elon Musk of the deep seas, repeatedly overstated OceanGate’s progress and, on at least one occasion, outright lied about significant problems with Titan’s hull, which has not been previously reported.

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Virtually all marine vessels are certified by organizations such as the American Bureau of Shipping, DNV, or Lloyd’s Register, which ensure that they are built using approved materials and methods and carry appropriate safety gear. It has been widely reported that Rush was dismissive of such certification, but what has not been made public until now is that OceanGate pursued certification with DNV (then known as DNV GL) in 2017—until Rush saw the price. “[DNV] informed me that this was not an easy few thousand dollar project as [it] had presented, but would cost around $50,000,” he later wrote in an email to Rob McCallum, a deep-sea explorer who had also signed Kohnen’s letter.

Titan and its safety systems are way beyond anything currently in use … I have grown tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation and new entrants from entering their small existing market,” Rush wrote to McCallum. “Since [starting] OceanGate we have heard the baseless cries of ‘you are going to kill someone’ way too often.”

Days later, Rush received an even more pointed warning from Boeing’s Mark Negley, who had stayed in contact with the CEO after he helped with a preliminary design. Negley had recently carried out an analysis of Spencer Composites’ hull based on information Rush had shared. He did not mince words when sharing his findings, which WIRED is reporting for the first time. “We think you are at a high risk of a significant failure at or before you reach 4,000 meters. We do not think you have any safety margin,” he wrote in an email on March 30. “Be cautious and careful.”

Negley provided a graph charting the strain on the submersible against depth. It shows a skull and crossbones in the region below 4,000 meters.

“Too shoddy and contemptuous of government regulators for post-merger Boeing to work with” is not a great standard for a company sending people to the bottom of the ocean.

I strongly recommend the whole thing — another classic tale of the arrogance of so many of our corporate overlords, although it must be granted in this case he was also a victim of his own bullshit too.

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