British businessman and three-time Guinness World Record holder, Hamish Harding.
Pakistani investor Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Suleman, who shared a passion for science and discovery.
77-year French deep sea explorer and Titanic expert, Paul-Henri Nargeolet.
Stockton Rush, founder and CEO of OceanGate, a company at the forefront of crewed submersible operations and underwater exploration.
United by a distinct spirit of adventure and a deep passion for the ocean, the five of them set off on the Titan submersible to peer at the remains of the Titanic through a tiny window. Rush navigates the submersible through the dark waters with what appears to be a video game controller, they pass bioluminescent creatures and large fish as their favourite songs play from a Bluetooth speaker. But, then they reach the abyss and the experimental titanium-carbon fibre hull collapses under the pressure. Just like that, they become ash and dust.
The implosion of the Titan submersible was a catastrophic event that took the lives of five passengers, and led to the closure of its parent company, OceanGate. As expected, tears were shed for the passengers and their loved ones and accusations were flung towards OceanGate. However, it wasn’t long before memes about the submersible and its passengers started surfacing on social media platforms, illustrating Gen Z’s affinity for dark humour. In this article, we’ll be diving into – no pun intended – the events that led to the implosion of the submersible and the aftermath of the disaster.
‘Man marks the Earth with ruin – his control stops with the shore’ – Lord Byron
Friday, 16th June 2023: The expedition set off from St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, aboard a Canadian research vessel, journeying to the site of the Titanic wreckage.
Saturday, 17th June 2023: One of the five passengers aboard the submersible, British billionaire and adventurer Hamish Harding, posted on Facebook that ‘this mission was likely to be the first and only manned mission to the Titanic in 2023’ due to harsh weather conditions.
Sunday, 18th June 2023: Although the Titan was scheduled to plunge into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean at 8.00 a.m., the U.S. Coast Guard posits that it only began its descent four hours later. However, the expedition showed signs of trouble when it lost communication with the surface vessel approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes into its 2-hour journey, and failed to resurface at the expected time. Eventually, the Coast Guard received word of the overdue submersible, and thus began the seemingly futile search for the 22-feet submersible in the 12,500-feet deep ocean – along with the memes about the aptly named OceanGate.
Wednesday, 21st June 2023: 96 hours; that’s how long the passengers of the Titan submersible had until they ran out of oxygen – if it was still intact. In spite of the dire circumstances, the Coast Guard was cautiously optimistic as a Canadian aircraft reportedly detected ‘underwater noises’ in the search area, and the size of the search area was increased to roughly twice the size of Connecticut.
Thursday, 22nd June: In a desperate attempt to locate the passengers before the last grain of sand trickled down the hourglass, the unified command which consisted of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Canadian Coast Guard, and OceanGate Expeditions deployed two remotely operated vehicles (ROV) as part of the search effort. However, its findings were not greeted with sighs of relief from the passengers’ family and friends, who had been holding their breath since news of the missing submersible first broke out.
In a press conference, the U.S. coast guard announced that the five passengers aboard the Titan had perished in a ‘catastrophic implosion’ and that one of the ROVs had discovered a debris field near the Titanic wreck. The U.S. Coast Guard also stated that the implosion was ‘consistent with a catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber’. It has been estimated that the collapse occurred within the span of one millisecond – or 0.001 seconds – which means that the death of the passengers was instantaneous.
Sunday, 25th June 2023:
Red Flag 1: A waiver that mentions the word ‘death’ multiple times.
Red Flag 2: A letter published in The New York Times warning of ‘catastrophic’ problems with Titan’s development.
Red Flag 3: Concerns from The Marine Technology Society regarding the ‘experimental approach adopted by OceanGate’.
Red Flag 4: Claims from an ex-employee that the Titan wasn’t properly tested and that hazardous materials were being used in the submersible.
The Titan was a ticking time bomb, and in hindsight it seems obvious that it would meet such a disastrous fate. However, OceanGate repeatedly chose to ignore the warning signs, swaying Titanic enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies into a ‘once in a lifetime of opportunity’ in exchange for $250,000 – and their life. Thus, the Coast Guard announced that its Marine Board of Investigation would launch an investigation into the loss of the Titan to ‘prevent a similar occurrence by making the necessary recommendations to advance the safety of the maritime domain worldwide’.
Wednesday, 28th June 2023: The Horizon Arctic vessel retrieved pieces of the Titan back to shore, and the U.S. Coast Guard stated that it would conduct further analysis and testing on the presumed human remains that were recovered from the debris field.
Sunday, 2nd July 2023: In the wake of the implosion, OceanGate updated its website, stating that it would henceforth be suspending all ‘exploration and commercial operation’. This move was prompted by a slew of potential lawsuits and investigations against the company, as well as backlash over its response to the safety concerns that had been raised over the years. Thus, it is safe to say that the company can do no more damage. But, there is nothing OceanGate can do to undo the damage it has already inflicted upon the Titan’s passengers and their loved ones.
The disappearance and subsequent implosion of the submersible not only led to a multitude of reactions but also highlighted the intricate interplay of human emotions, societal commentary, and the unique dynamics of digital communication platforms. This event became a clear example of the complex ways in which individuals respond to tragedy in the age of the internet.
The initial shock and concern over the fate of the trapped passengers were natural reactions, stemming from the realisation of the dire circumstances they faced. As more information surfaced, it triggered a shift in public discourse. The blend of empathy, disbelief, and a growing understanding of the passengers’ socio-economic status set the stage for the emergence of dark humour as a coping mechanism. This humour, while helping some individuals process the tragedy, was not without its controversies.
While some users found solace in crafting and sharing humorous content, others leveraged these moments to seek attention and online recognition.
Critics argued that making light of the situation was insensitive and disrespectful, especially considering that the search and rescue operation was still ongoing.
Amid all these discourses, the incident took an unexpected turn to pop culture. Brian Szasz, the stepson of one of the passengers, attended a Blink-182 concert shortly after the submersible disappearance. He posted on Facebook, “It might be distasteful being here but my family would want me to be at the Blink-182 show as it’s my favourite band and music helps me in difficult times.”
In response, Cardi B quickly responded on her Instagram Story, questioning, “What is he supposed to do? Be sad at the house? Is he supposed to go look for him himself?” She continued, “Yes. You’re supposed to be at the house, sad. You’re supposed to be crying for me. You’re supposed to be right next to the phone, waiting to hear any updates about me.” Szasz fired back at Cardi B on social media, accusing her of seeking attention from his family’s suffering. He criticised her for trying to gain ‘‘clout’’ and explained that he attended the Blink 182 concert as a way to cope rather than staying home and watching the news.
As the online disagreements began to settle down after a week, one question remained a doubt: the future of OceanGate. Guillermo Sohnleim, one of the company’s founders, asserted the future trajectory of OceanGate is shrouded in uncertainty following the tragic incident, yet he emphasised that comprehensive analysis and mourning for the crew’s loss take precedence over hasty speculation.
Sohnleim highlighted, “It’s going to take days, weeks, months to collect data and analyse the data and try to figure out what happened.” He discouraged premature assumptions about the catastrophe’s origins and urged people to exercise patience for an accurate account of events.
The company’s decision to bypass certification from third-party entities like the American Bureau of Shipping or DNV has sparked inquiries, prompting Sohnleim to stress that safety does not solely hinge on classification. He encouraged the public to await the official investigative findings rather than engage in conjecture.
The company also took down its social media pages last month and said it would suspend “all exploration and commercial operations” following the implosion of its Titan sub. However, recently, OceanGate announced its new CEO following the tragic demise of its former president, Stockton Rush, due to the implosion. The company has selected Gordon Gardiner, a former investment banker, to take the reins. According to OceanGate, Gardiner’s role will involve guiding the company through ongoing investigations and the subsequent closure of operations.
All in all, the tragic implosion of OceanGate’s Titan submersible underscores the importance of safety in the realm of deep-sea exploration. The incident serves as a poignant reminder that, even cutting-edge technology and ambitious ventures must prioritise stringent safety measures. In the exploration of the uncharted ocean depths, the quest for discovery should invariably be coupled with an unyielding dedication to protecting human lives and conserving the fragile equilibrium of underwater ecosystems.
Written By: Ruby & Priyanka
Edited By: Poorani