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Updated Jun 21, 2023, 4:03pm EDT
North America

Mechanic on ‘record-setting’ Titan dive dismisses criticism from ‘armchair experts’

Titan submersible
Expeditions/Handout via REUTERS
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The News

A marine tech technician who said he took two dives on board OceanGate’s Titan submersible during its testing phase in 2019, including a “record-setting” one, is slamming “armchair experts” for their criticism of the vehicle’s design and safety features.

“I am saddened by all the misinformation that is floating around, and the accusations from armchair experts about the lack of build quality of Titan, or by the lack of technical prowess of the whole team,” Petros Mathioudakis told Semafor on Wednesday.

The Titan — with five people on board — went missing on Monday during an expedition to the Titanic wreckage. It now has less than 20 hours of oxygen left with search and rescue efforts still ongoing.

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The New York Times on Wednesday revealed that in 2018, over three dozen industry leaders, oceanographers, and deep-sea explorers had warned OceanGate and its CEO Stockton Rush about the “experimental” design of the Titan and had urged the the company to allow third-party evaluation to avoid ”catastrophic" problems.

At least two previous OceanGate employees had also raised alarms about the vessel’s safety, with one refusing to perform manned test dives. He was later fired and sued for revealing company secrets.

CBS News’ David Pogue, who took a dive on the Titan last year for a news report, had described the the apparent ”improvised design” of the Titan which used an off-brand Playstation controller and lighting bought at an outdoor goods store. He also pointed out at the time that the Titan relied on text messages while communicating with the mothership. Pogue said he witnessed the Titan go missing for five hours last year and that OceanGate cut the WiFi onboard to stop people from tweeting about the incident.

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However Pogue said that during his tour, the company adhered to rigorous safety inspections and briefings, and that the Titan has seven emergency ascent systems in place, including a timed-release sandbag that would deploy after 14 hours underwater even if the occupants have passed out.

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The View From The Mechanic

Mathioudakis told Semafor that he was never an official employee of OceanGate but had been subcontracted as a technician for separate company projects and had developed friendships with CEO Stockton Rush and French explorer Paul-Henry Nargeolet, who are currently on board the missing Titan along with three other passengers.

Mathioudakis said that he had completed two dives on the Titan with Rush in 2019, including a “record-setting" one on the submersible where he was part of a four-member crew that reached the “Titanic-level” depth of 3,760 meters (12,336 feet) in the Bahamas.

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“When you are thinking about friends on board, hope has to be kept, [and] that even with odds against them that there is chance of success,” he said Wednesday.

Mathioudakis said that the safety concerns raised by the two former OceanGate employees in 2018, as well as the letter from industry leaders, were “before the extensive testing completed in 2019.” He added that OceanGate had responded to those concerns in the past and changed the hull to increase the level of safety.

“The nature of building submersibles to handle the pressures of these depths means that there is no set boundary or set of parameters that they can all fit into, each one is unique,” Mathioudakis told Semafor.

“Titan is one of a small handful of vehicles that can take passengers to those depths. Many regulatory bodies expect an exact replica to be built to study and test, which is not an attainable request. This is not a mass-produced vehicle, this is 1 of 1,” he said.

In response to criticism leveled at the lack of sophisticated communication on the Titan, Mathioudakis said that communication losses were not uncommon as “it is very hard to communicate through the water compared to through the air.”

“Triangulating the exact position of the sub is also no easy feat,” he said, adding that the submersible has an iridium beacon that can send an update via satellite to the mothership when it surfaces.

He clarified that Elon Musk’s Starlink was only the internet provider aboard the mothership MV Polar Prince and that the Titan used a set of marine radios and an antenna to communicate with the mothership while it was at the surface.

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