Most of the time, an obituary makes headlines because of how a person lived. But every now and then, it’s because of how they died. That certainly is the case for the five men on the OceanGate Titan submersible, which imploded this past June on its way down to the Titanic.
One of them was OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, the designer of the sub. He certainly enjoyed playing the maverick. In 2022 he told me, “I don’t know if it was MacArthur, but somebody said, ‘You’re remembered for the rules you break,’ and that’s the fact. And there were a lot of rules out there that didn’t make engineering sense to me.”
But during the ten days I spent with him last year for, I found him to be funny, whip-smart, and driven.
“My whole life, I wanted to be an astronaut,” Rush said. “I wanted to be sort of the Captain Kirk; I didn’t want to be the passenger in the back. And I realized that the ocean is the universe; that’s where life is.
“We have this universe that will take us centuries to explore,” he said. “And suddenly, you see things that no one’s ever seen, and you realize how little we know, how vast the ocean is, how much life is there, how important it is, and how alien.”
I also got to know P.H. Nargeolet, one of the most experienced Titanic divers who ever lived; he’d visited the wreck of the Titanic 37 times.
When asked if he still felt amazement or awe, he replied, “Yeah. You know, I have to say, each dive is a new experience. I open my eyes like THAT when I’m in the sub!”
He died that day, too, along with their three passengers: Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood, and his son, Suleman.
I’m tempted to say something here about how risk is part of the game for thrill-seekers like these, or maybe even the whole point. Or about how Stockton Rush was trying to innovate, to make deep-sea exploration accessible to more people. Or about how science doesn’t move forward without people making sacrifices.
But none of that would be any consolation to the people those men left behind – their wives, kids, parents. P.H. had grandchildren. For them, it’s just absence now, and grieving … for the men who died, and the dreams they were chasing.
Story produced by Anthony Laudato. Editor: Emanuele Secci.