‘Struck by the similarity’: James Cameron breaks silence on Titan sub disaster

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Director James Cameron, whose 1997 blockbuster Titanic helped renew worldwide fascination in the 1912 wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic, criticised undersea tourism company OceanGate after its submersible imploded underwater, drawing parallels between the harrowing tourist trip and the infamous 111-year-old shipwreck.
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Director James Cameron said he was “struck” by the similarities between the implosion of OceanGate’s submersible and the 1912 wreck of the Titanic.

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Key Takeaways
  • In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Cameron—who has plunged to the wreck of the Titanic in a remote stretch of the Atlantic roughly 900 miles east of Cape Cod on multiple occasions—said he was “struck by the similarity” to the plight of the Titanic, whose captain rammed the ocean liner into an iceberg even after being warned about ice.
  • The exact cause of the submersible disaster is unknown.
  • Cameron criticised OceanGate for failing to heed warnings about the submersible’s experimental approach, while lauding the safety of other deep undersea exploration vehicles as the “gold standard”—the tourism company had been warned in 2018 by a group of industry professionals about its vessel not meeting voluntary industry standards and the possibility of “minor to catastrophic” outcomes.
  • Cameron joins a group of explorers who have sounded the alarm about the submersible, which had no GPS system and was operated by a controller and just one button that functions like an elevator,” according to OceanGate’s late CEO Stockton Rush, one of five passengers aboard the submersible.
  • Former Harvard University physics instructor Michael Guillen, who has also descended two miles deep to the wreck of the Titanic, also contrasted the vessel he boarded in 2000 to the one operated by OceanGate, telling British outlet GB News the vessel he took was “created by serious-minded people,” whereas the Titan submersible was “designed primarily for tourism.”
News Peg

OceanGate released a statement on Thursday—the fifth day of a massive search for the vessel over an area roughly the size of Connecticut—saying the five passengers on the Titan “have sadly been lost.” According to U.S. Coast Guard District Northeast, five major pieces of the Titan had been discovered over two debris fields roughly 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic, including two parts of its pressure hull. U.S. Navy director of salvage operations and ocean engineering Paul Hankins said in a press conference the discovery confirmed the submersible had suffered a “catastrophic” event, likely from an implosion.

Key Background

Five passengers—including Rush, as well as British aviation mogul Hamish Harding, longtime French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, British-Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Sulemon—boarded the Titan Sunday morning.

They lost contact with the submersible’s mothership less than two hours into their descent to the seafloor, prompting a massive search and rescue operation involving U.S., Canadian and French rescue teams.

The passengers were believed to have 96 hours of oxygen when they first descended, giving rescuers until Thursday morning when it is believed that supply would be drained. On Wednesday, a Canadian jet detected underwater noises in regular intervals in the search area, which were believed to be the sounds of the passengers banging on the submersible’s single 21-inch window, though the five passengers were never found.

Tangent

Cameron first visited the wreck of the Titanic in 1995, two years before his film by the same name was released, and has returned multiple times since. In 2012, Cameron piloted a submersible to the deepest part of the ocean, plunging more than 35,000 feet into the pitch-black abyss known as the Challenger Deep, within the Pacific’s Mariana Trench. He later turned that trip into the 2014 documentary Deepsea Challenge 3D.

This story was first published on forbes.com

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