Well, It's Certainly Titan-ish
Plus: Tuesday #Longreads
Ok look, in my spare time I do volunteer wilderness search and rescue, so I am the last person to look askance at anyone for doing stupid things in the name of pointless adventure. If your soul calls you to risk death on a mountain in Maine, I will do my best to reach you in time, and if it calls you to die in a carbon fiber and titanium can at the bottom of the Atlantic, I will salute you and hope for your sake it was a hull breach, comrade. There will be no judgement rendered here on the five optimistic fools who are currently missing in the OceanGate submersible Titan somewhere near the final resting place of the Titanic. But I am obsessed with this story so here’s what we know right now:
Who is missing?
Hamish Harding: a classic Rich Adventure Guy™ who made his money in private equity and holds expensive Guinness records for stuff like “longest time in the Marianas Trench” and “fastest pole-to-pole aerial circumnavigation.” He even has a classic Rich Adventure Guy™ name.
Shahzada Dawood and Suleman Dawood: UK-resident Pakistani father and son, Shahzada is Vice-Chairman at a business factory. Suleman is 19 and may be the only person aboard not really equipped to rationally assess the risk he was taking.
Paul Henry Nargeolet: Pilot of the craft and “world’s leading expert on the Titanic wreckage and its debris field,” who has been down there dozens of times.
Stockton Rush: CEO of OceanGate, who, if not found, will join Wikipedia’s esteemed list of inventors killed by their own invention alongside John Day, killed by his “experimental diving chamber,” Horace Lawson Hunley, a Confederate sailor killed by his experimental combat submarine, and Thomas Andrews, Jr., “the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic,” who died you know where.
Is this submersible, like… safe?
Lmao no. OceanGate has a whole page on why the sub isn’t “classed,” or inspected and rated for safety and insurability by an independent authority, but it comes down to the same old tech industry argument that stodgy incumbents just can’t keep up with disruptive innovation, man. Like a benthic Theranos, the venture capital stink around OceanGate doesn’t inspire confidence. They even have a contact page on their website if you’d like to invest. If only George Schultz were still around. In 2018, the Marine Technology Society sent a letter to OceanGate expressing “unanimous concern regarding the development of TITAN and the planned Titanic Expedition,” and warning that:
Our apprehension is that the current experimental approach adopted by Oceangate could result in negative outcomes (from minor to catastrophic) that would have serious consequences for everyone in the industry.
Last November, disgraced former tech journalist David Pogue, who apparently now works for CBS’s nursing home programming division, pretended to go on a dive with the company, and even he was unable to avoid pointing out that “I couldn’t help noticing how many pieces of this sub seemed... improvised.”
For example: the submersible is controlled by a “$30 logitech controller,” a detail that gives all the gaming sites a gaming angle. On Pogue’s expedition the sub got lost, although less dramatically than it did this time. In general it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of backup systems in case of failure, and that failures happen constantly. The day it got lost on the CBS shoot, Pogue reports:
So wait, David Pogue is still doing journalism?
I guess!? Speaking of things dredged up from the depths. If you don’t recall the name, Pogue was a tech columnist for the New York Times in the 2000s, covering all the big companies while accepting paid speaking gigs from them, including a paid gig telling tech PR how to pitch him successfully. He was also charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly hitting his ex-wife with an iPhone (the charges were later dropped), and as of 2011 was dating a tech industry PR executive. Even Dan Lyons was like “wow this seems shady.” He still didn’t leave the Times until 2013, when he went off to Yahoo! and, one assumed, was never heard from again. And yet here he is, cheerfully burbling away on Nana’s morning news show about a neat-o submersible that definitely isn’t going to get anyone killed.
Huh! Weird. Ok back to the submersible though…
Why is it called a “submersible“ and not a “submarine?”
A submarine is a self-supporting ship that can travel on the surface or underwater. A submersible is launched and recovered from a support ship.
That’s less interesting than I thought it would be.
So what happened to it?
No one knows yet. In the Washington Post, Tamia Fowlkes and Maham Javaid reported that “OceanGate alerted the Coast Guard of the vessel’s disappearance Sunday afternoon after contact was lost roughly one hour and 45 minutes into its dive.” According to the NY Times, “The dives offered by the company last about eight hours, including the estimated 2.5 hours each way it takes to descend and ascend.” The sub carries 96 hours of oxygen, so if they are still using oxygen they have about half of it left. But today, Insider’s Caroline Haskins and Katherine Long reported that:
A former employee of OceanGate… warned in 2018 that the sub's [hull] safety could be compromised by poor "quality control and safety" protocols that "paying passengers would not be aware" of, according to a lawsuit.
So I think there are three possibilities:
Least Grim: The sub did manage to surface, but can’t communicate with the support ship, and it’s bobbing away out there somewhere waiting to be found. The crew can’t escape on their own, for what are probably very good structural-integrity reasons that I bet would feel significantly less good if you were trapped inside it on the surface, able to see fresh air but not reach it. At least in this case there’s a chance that search planes will see it.
Medium Grim: It’s possible the sub’s five-inch thick carbon fiber hull failed. At 13,000 feet deep, where the pressure is more than 5,800 psi, this would have rapidly and comprehensively squished everyone and everything on board. It’s unpleasant to imagine, but it would happen so fast that no one involved would have been physically capable of being aware of it.
Extremely Grim: It’s also possible that the hull is fine but some other part of the sub’s jury rigged systems failed, rendering it unable to surface or communicate. This would leave the crew stranded near the Titanic’s final resting place, with four days worth of air, possibly getting very cold and thirsty. I truly hope for their sake this is not what is currently happening.
Can they be rescued?
I can’t be definitive here but, like, no? There are a bunch of ships and planes out there searching, but man it’s hard to find anything in the ocean if you don’t already know precisely where it is. If they’re trapped at depth, the list of vehicles in the whole world that could reach them at all is very short. The support ship has no cable or anything that could recover the submersible if it were found. According to the Daily Mail, “The US Coast Guard has given the bleak warning that it may not be able to rescue the missing Titanic tourist sub - even if it is able to find it.” The U.S. Coast Guard: masters of understatement.
Is there any good news?
Well, at least this is fake:
Condolences to everyone who picked today to drop your non-sub-related #longread. Here are the best ones:
ChatGPT seems so human because it was trained by an AI that was mimicking humans who were rating an AI that was mimicking humans who were pretending to be a better version of an AI that was trained on human writing.
This is a landmark story that should change the whole discourse around what AI models are, what we’re doing with them, and that their creators are doing to us. Read it.
Blackbird Spyplane dropped a rare straight-news investigative report on Canadian online fashion retailer Ssense and what it’s doing to the fragile retail market for up and coming designer clothing brands. Spoiler: you already know what it’s doing, it’s the same “[burn] through heaps of money in order to lock down market share—’blitzscaling,’ as Am*zon and Uber have famously done.” This is an extremely well-reported piece, so much so that I find myself wondering why Jonah didn’t place it in Businessweek or something, but it’s a real credit to the BBSP brand.
RFK Jr. is having his media moment right now, so Brandy Zadrozny’s profile of him for NBC News is well-timed. Kennedy is a total clown though, here he is telling Joe Rogan that wifi “opens up the blood brain barrier.” If you decided to skip learning anything about him, I don’t think you’re missing out.
What one piece of culture captures
the true spirit of our country? We asked
17 columnists to find out.
I’m definitely not gonna read all this. But I did give it a quick scroll and, lol:
Today’s Song: Nia Archives, “Off Wiv Ya Headz”
Intern Mariam is off today, searching for the missing sub. She will return tomorrow. Music Intern Sam only gave me this one song option so he must feel strongly about it. I really hope they miraculously save everyone on that sub, it’s a horrible story. Thanks for reading, from your primarily land-based Tabs crew.