There were several ‘potential failure points’ in the doomed Titan submersible – and a warning system probably alerted the five crew who perished shortly before the vessel imploded, Titanic director James Cameron has said.
A series of concerns were raised in recent years about the vessel’s carbon fiber hull – the cylinder which carried the five crew who perished – and its porthole, which was allegedly not certified to the immense depths Titan ventured to.
The company’s CEO, Stockton Rush, even said the carbon fiber design broke a ‘rule’ and was accused of ignoring concerns from his own staff.
Cameron, a renowned explorer who has traveled to the deepest known point in the ocean, said Titan had ‘three potential failure points’ and indicated that its ‘Achilles heel’ was the carbon fiber cylinder.
He added the hull was broken into ‘very small pieces’ after Titan imploded when the hull fractured because of the pressure. A warning system probably sounded an alert and the crew tried to ascend in the moment before the implosion, he added.
Titan’s carbon fiber hull and its acrylic viewport were subject to several warnings and James Cameron singled them out as ‘potential failure points’ on the vessel
Cameron gave a series of interviews following news of Titan’s demise which criticized the ‘fundamentally flawed’ carbon fiber hull
Concerns about the hull and porthole were also raised by OceanGate’s former head of marine operations, David Lochridge, in court documents in 2018. The filings state the viewport was ‘only built to a certified pressure of 1,300 meters, although OceanGate intended to take passengers down to depths of 4,000 meters’.
Cameron delivered a damning assessment of the Titan craft during a series of interviews following the grim news it had been destroyed during its mission.
He criticized the design for straying away from proven techniques in favor of experimental methods.
‘There are three potential failure points and the investigation hopefully can localize it down to exactly what happened,’ he told Good Morning America.
‘The viewport in the front was an acrylic viewport. I’m told it was rated to less depth than they were diving to, which is one point. They also had two glass spheres on the sub, small glass spheres for floatation, which is a bad idea.’
Cameron didn’t clarify his statement about the ‘glass spheres’ but he said it was the carbon fiber hull that was the ‘weakest link’.
‘If I had to put money down on what the finding will be, the Achilles heel of the sub was the composite cylinder that was the main hull that the people were inside,’
Cameron said: ‘And they probably had warning that their hull was starting to delaminate, and it started to crack… ‘It’s our belief we understand from inside the community that they had dropped their ascent weights and they were coming up, trying to manage an emergency’
‘There were two titanium end caps on each end. They are relatively intact on the sea floor. But that carbon fiber composite cylinder is now just in very small pieces. It’s all rammed into one of the hemispheres. It’s pretty clear that’s what failed.’
Rush, who died in the Titan incident, said in a video posted online in 2021 that he had ‘broken some rules’ to create the vessel and added: ‘The carbon fiber and titanium, there’s a rule you don’t do that – well I did.’
He also said in 2020 that the hull had ‘showed signs of cyclical fatigue’.
Carbon fiber is prone to delamination, the process whereby a material fractures into layers while put under pressure.
Cameron said: ‘The way it fails is it delaminates. You have to have a hull, a pressure hull, made out of a contiguous material like steel, or like titanium, which is the proven standard.’
‘This OceanGate sub had sensors on the inside of the hull to give them a warning when it was starting to crack. And I think if that’s your idea of safety, then you’re doing it wrong. And they probably had warning that their hull was starting to delaminate, and it started to crack…
‘It’s our belief we understand from inside the community that they had dropped their ascent weights and they were coming up, trying to manage an emergency.’
In 2012, James Cameron carried out a successful solo mission to the deepest known point on Earth, the Mariana Trench. He piloted the Deepsea Challenger (pictured) which was designed to withstand depths in excess of 36,000ft
Cameron in 2012 after his successful solo dive in Deepsea Challenger to the deepest-known point on Earth, the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench
A graphic breaks down Cameron’s 2012 mission to the deepest known point in the ocean
OceanGate has not shared a comment about reports into safety concerns about Titan since the incident.
The company had boasted in promotional material about Titan’s ‘Real Time Hull Health Monitoring’, which constantly checked the integrity of the vessel throughout the dive. The system used acoustic sensors and strain gauges to ‘analyze the effects of changing pressure on the vessel as the submersible dives deeper, and accurately assess the integrity of the structure’.
But legal filings reveal Lochridge, the former director of marine operations, ‘expressed concern that this was problematic because this type of acoustic analysis would only show when a component is about to fail—often milliseconds before an implosion—and would not detect any existing flaws prior to putting pressure onto the hull.’
Cameron successfully reached the deepest known point on Earth, the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, in 2012 using the Deepsea Challenger submersible.
It was only the fourth time the seven-mile descent to the Pacific sea bed has been made successfully – and the first time a man has made it the bottom and back since 1960.
The dive followed seven years of planning and design for the construction of the specialized sub which could withstand the immense pressure at the ocean floor.