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OceanGate co-founder thinks about the Titan implosion daily but still wants to make deep-sea exploration accessible

Lloyd Lee   

OceanGate co-founder thinks about the Titan implosion daily but still wants to make deep-sea exploration accessible
  • OceanGate's Titan imploded nearly a year ago, killing all 5 passengers including the company's CEO.
  • The company's co-founder, Guillermo Söhnlein, told BI he thinks about the incident daily.

OceanGate's co-founder said he thinks about the fatal Titan submersible voyage every day, and the incident pushes him to continue pursuing his vision of accessible deep-sea exploration.

Nearly one year ago, on June 18, 2023, the Titan made its final plunge in the Atlantic, where five passengers — including OceanGate's CEO Stockton Rush — ventured to the site of the Titanic wreckage.

US Coast Guard officials said the vessel experienced a "catastrophic implosion," instantly killing all passengers.

The incident captured national attention and was widely viewed as the manifestation of Rush's hubris and relentless push to explore the deep sea — even if that meant bending a few rules.

"Few of us ever have a fatal flaw, and Rush did," Arnie Weissmann, the editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly, told Business Insider last year. "He thought he was right or he wouldn't have gotten in [the submersible] and piloted it, but that was a fatal flaw."

But for Guillermo Söhnlein, who co-founded OceanGate with Rush in 2009, death is an unfortunate element of innovation that explorers can only hope to avoid.

"We always know that setbacks are almost just part of the exploration experience. It's almost in the definition of exploration," he told BI in a recent interview. "You're gonna have setbacks, and you hope that the setbacks don't include fatalities, but you know that's a possibility."

And when death does become a "setback," Söhnlein said, that's when you should push harder.

"I think in a paradoxical kind of way, that drive to keep going is amplified," he said. "And I think in large part, it's because you want to make sure that your colleagues, who lost their lives, didn't lose their lives in vain. You want their death to mean something, and you want their legacies to live on."

This sentiment is part of why Söhnlein hasn't stopped thinking about OceanGate and Rush in the year since the Titan catastrophe.

"If anything I probably think about him and the company and everything 10 times more than I did before the incident," he said.

Advances in human transportation systems

During the interview, Söhnlein did not mention regrets in those thoughts but rather a desire to achieve OceanGate's early vision to "open the oceans up to humanity."

He told BI that he sees an issue with how the only people who seem to be able to plunge into the ocean's depths are billionaires with resources to build a submersible or researchers and government agencies that have access to deep-sea vessels.

"When Stockton and I sat down and looked at the state of the world in 2009, we thought, 'That is a tragedy,'" he said. "The most important ecosystem in the entire planet is one that we can only access if we are a national government or a billionaire. And that's ridiculous."

The Titan implosion continues to be investigated today. A recent Wired report revealed more insights into Rush's push to build a low-cost submersible and how he ignored warnings from his colleagues.

People within and outside OceanGate urged Rush to conduct more tests on the Titan before taking on passengers. Last year, BI reported that OceanGate had completed over 14 expeditions and 200 dives using two submersibles.

Söhnlein said he read the Wired report but didn't want to comment because he felt he would be speculating on its contents.

He also told BI that he doesn't consider how many tests are suitable for a deep-sea submersible "because it is different for every sub, depending on the level of innovation."

When asked if he would have said anything differently to Rush before the implosion, Söhnlein again told BI that he would be speculating.

"I don't know. I'd be speculating since I wasn't at the company and I only spoke to Stockton occasionally," he said. "I didn't have access to all the information. I wasn't there day to day. I didn't see the sub being built."

A communications firm representing OceanGate wrote in a brief email to BI that "OceanGate has suspended all exploration and commercial operations."

Last year, Söhnlein told BI of his grand vision to send 1,000 people to a floating colony on Venus. He also founded Blue Marble Exploration, which he described as an "exploration-focused media company," after he left OceanGate.

In his recent interview with BI, he said that one takeaway from the Titan implosion, which he would apply to his ongoing exploration ventures, goes beyond submersibles and is relevant to the current advancements in the "human transportation system," from self-driving cars to suborbital flight.

"At some point in the technology development cycle, you have to put humans in the loop," Söhnlein said. "But if you're going to start putting humans in that transportation system, you've got to have the right level of comfort with the viability of the technology to do it as safely as possible. And I think that's just kind of a lesson learned for everybody."


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