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OceanGate Co-Founder Says the Titan's Implosion Is All Part of the Exploration Game

Former OceanGate CEO and founder says what happened to Titan can be chalked off to the dangers of innovation 24 photos
Photo: OceanGate Expeditions/Blue Marble Explorations (Composite)
The Titan submersible from OceanGate imploded on June 18, 2023, as it made its way to the TitanicThe Titan submersible from OceanGate imploded on June 18, 2023, as it made its way to the TitanicThe Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021Triton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongTriton is working on a 2-person sub that will do dives to the Titanic to prove critics wrongThe Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021
It's been one year since Titan, the world's first privately-owned tourist sub and the largest deep-dive submersible capable of taking more than two passengers to the Titanic, imploded on its way to the famous wreck. OceanGate Expeditions, which operated it, has been shuttered since then, and the world is still waiting for answers.
Not so much OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Sohnlein, who started the company with Stockton Rush in 2009. Stockton Rush is the company's late CEO, who also doubled as team leader on the fatal mission on June 18, 2023, and the man who largely took the credit in public for the company's success, such as it had been at the time of the tragedy.

Stockton Rush fashioned himself into a McGyver type who flaunted or outright ignored rules and industry standards to build Titan, the so-called revolutionary submersible he believed would usher in a new era of deep-sea exploration and sea tourism. That's a dream Rush shared with Sohnlein in the early days of OceanGate, the latter reveals in a new interview with The Sun, published on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

It's not so much that Sohnlein doesn't want answers on what happened on that ill-fated day, but rather that he believes the tragedy is part and parcel of innovation in general and deep sea exploration in particular. He's also not about to be deterred from either because of what happened to Titan.

The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021
Photo: OceanGate Expeditions

Two frustrated astronauts see an opening in deep-sea exploration

Sohnlein wasn't involved in OceanGate Expeditions at the time of the Titan implosion or, for that matter, in Titan itself, whose development started after he left. He founded the company with Rush in 2009, imagining a business model where they'd build a fleet of five submersibles they would then rent out to researchers, tourists, and explorers.

When Rush's dreams of deep-sea exploration outgrew the initial plan, Sohnlein left the company. That was in 2013, almost a full decade before Rush made the first manned, tourist-packed dive to the Titanic with Titan in 2021.

In previous interviews, Sohnlein hinted that his and Rush's relationship was contentious at times and that the parting wasn't exactly on good terms, either. He's since softened his stance and, in the year that passed since Titan imploded, killing all five people onboard, including Rush, he's oscillated between refusing to comment and maintaining that Rush wouldn't have done anything to put safety ahead of whatever innovation he'd set his sights on.

The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021
Photo: OceanGate Expeditions
In the new interview, he describes the early days of OceanGate as two "frustrated astronauts" itching to give in to their adventurous, exploring side and finally being able to do so when they realized there was a gap in the market. OceanGate started out as a company that aimed to "open the oceans to all of humanity," a most noble endeavor fueled by the realization that only billionaires and state-funded organizations had free access to the underwater world.

OceanGate would hustle for a buck, but the ultimate mission was to democratize underwater exploration, Sohnlein says.

Stockton Rush prioritized safety and would be sad to see the company shutter

In previous interviews, Sohnlein quite firmly refused to be drawn into debates by commenting on reports, leaked data, or speculative op-eds on what went wrong with Titan and, ultimately, the corners Rush cut in order to build a sub on a very strict budget and a very short timeline. This one is different, if only because it sounds like Sohnlein is openly defending Rush or, at the very least, the accusation that Rush prioritized money over safety.

The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021
Photo: OceanGate Expeditions
First off, these things do happen, Sohnlein says. It's not a cynical thing to say, but reality.

Space and deep-sea exploration are fields where there's a high margin of inherent risk, so it's up to these adventurers not to let the inevitable death of their mates be in vain. He plans to do just that after Titan, through the companies he started after he left OceanGate, including the planned 2024 mission Sapphire Abyss at Dean's Blue Hole and plans to colonize Venus.

Secondly, it's not fair to say that Rush compromised on safety in his rush to put Titan in the water even without in-house tests, let alone international certification.

The Titan submarine will start taking tourists to the Titanic in May 2021
Photo: OceanGate Expeditions
"I think if Stock had survived and was with us today, I think the regrets he would have, one would be obvious – which is any setback or problem with the sub causing fatalities or injuries," Sohnlein says. "He was very much focused on safety. I think the next regret he would have is the company not continuing operations and not being able to keep going and getting beyond Titanic because Titanic was really just a means to an end for business."

That's probably too generous of Sohnlein, considering he's talking about a man who criticized the Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993 as "needlessly prioritiz[ing] passenger safety over commercial innovation" and who complained to deep-sea explorer Rob McCallum, who had warned him not to send passengers to Titanic depth on an unclassed and uncertified sub, that he'd "heard the baseless cries of 'you are going to kill someone' way too often."

The investigation is still ongoing

Both Sohnlein's defense of his former mate and the leaked reports suggesting negligence on Rush's part remain speculative as of this writing until the ongoing investigation comes to a head.

The Titan submersible from OceanGate imploded on June 18, 2023, as it made its way to the Titanic
Photo: OceanGate
The US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigations (MBI) had initially estimated a 12-month timeline for the conclusion of the investigation, which kicked off five days after the sub disappeared on its dive to the Titanic. On Friday, the MBI announced that the timeline had been extended indefinitely due to the complexity of the case and the amount of evidence it had to include.

For what it's worth, in the court of public opinion, Stockton Rush was the personification of hubris: a man with a once-noble dream who ignored rules, industry norms, and even common sense to build a highly experimental vessel that he crammed full of people and took down to the Titanic, testing fate until fate finally crushed it like a soda can with over 6,000 psi of pressure.
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Editor's note: Photos in the gallery show Titan and the upcoming Triton Abyssal Explorer, which aims to prove the industry of private subs is "safe."

About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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