Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

The Titan, the submersible vessel that imploded last week.

The cost of making deadly mistakes is sometimes necessary.

by James Porter July 14, 2023

The Titan, the submersible vessel that imploded last week.

This blog is in part about Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate and the implosion of the Titan Submersible. With Rush on board piloting the ship, plus 4 passengers paying $250,000 each to see the Titanic, this is an example of a deadly and apparently unnecessary mistake that cost the lives of 5 people. We’ll look at what mistakes were made that may have caused the ship to implode, and in future installments will look at how mistakes are sometimes a necessary part of the discovery process, even when they result in death.

Without any government oversite, Stockton Rush’s company, OceanGate created a revolutionary, relatively inexpensive submersible that as of last week, had successfully voyaged to the very bottom of the sea – 12,000 feet below sea level - to visit the Titanic on several occasions.

Stockton Rush made at least one fatal mistake in creating this low-cost submersible. In assuming that a hull made of three dissimilar materials: Carbon fiber, titanium and Plexiglass, each with its own separate coefficient of expansion and contraction, would hold together, was probably what resulted in the catastrophic conclusion we all witnessed last week. The seals between these three vastly different materials, according to a retired Navy Sub Captain I listened to, were bound to fail.

Rush never had his underwater vessel certified by the one agency that was qualified to do it. He said it was too expensive. One tip- off to the somewhat makeshift nature of the subs construction was the fact that the Titan had (I kid you not) a video game controller (and other off-the-shelf materials) to steer and control the ship.

Rush knowingly cut costs, took risks, so his passengers could see the Titanic through a window instead of an externally mounted camera. And having that window, may be why the sub imploded. As this same retired Navy submarine commander who I mentioned above put it: That’s one reason why submarines don’t have portals. They’re not safe. This may have resulted in the deaths of 4 innocent people and was an unforgiveable mistake.

Still, making mistakes is a vital part of learning and discovery, and even a tragic, accidental death shouldn’t keep us (society) from taking risks if the goal is important enough. The Wright Brothers understood this better than anyone as many of the inventors who were attempting to fly before them, had died trying. The brothers studied those other inventors’ mistakes and learned from them. That’s why they first tested the plane at Kitty Hawk. It was a giant stretch of a soft sandy beach with a steady 20 mile an hour headwind on which they could safely test their new airplane. And even though the plane could fly with two people on it, as an added precaution the brothers never flew it together. That way if one of them died in a crash the other could carry on with the work. 

We all make mistakes in life and careful planning can help us avoid making deadly mistakes, as certainly the Wright Brothers proved. And yet, we often beat ourselves up unmercifully for making even minor, way less costly mistakes. This is one mistake we should NEVER make: If we want to make progress in any field, we need to feel comfortable making mistakes. It seems pretty clear that Stockton Rush, knowingly took shortcuts in order to help his adventure tourism business get off the ground and in the water. And that kind of deadly mistake is unforgiveable. But as we will see in next week’s installment, sometimes even deadly mistakes MUST be considered part of the learning process.

James Porter
James Porter