David Lochridge is the former director of Marine Operations at OceanGate who says he was fired by the company after raising safety concerns about the “Titan” submersible that later went missing with five people on board.
“A debris field was discovered within the search area by an ROV near the Titanic. Experts within the unified command are evaluating the information,” the U.S. Coast Guard tweeted on June 22, 2023. BBC reported, according to a friend of passengers, that it was a landing frame and rear cover of the Titan submersible.
The Coast Guard and OceanGate say the five men died when the submersible faced catastrophic failure. “We now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, have sadly been lost,” the company said in a statement to CNN.
Rear Admiral John Mauger said in a news conference on June 22, 2023, that a remote-operated vehicle discovered the tail cone of the Titan lying 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic on the sea floor. “The degree is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber,” Mauger said.
OceanGate Inc. sued David Lochridge and his wife Carole Reid Lochridge in United States District Court in the Western District of Washington in 2018. He filed a counterclaim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, court documents show.
The counterclaim casts Lochridge as a whistleblower and says he was in good standing as an employee prior to a 2018 inspection report he authored raising concerns about the submersible. The New York Post reported that OceanGate sued Lochridge for “breach of contract, fraud, and revealing trade secrets,” which he denied. The suit ended in a settlement in 2019, The Post reported.
In the counterclaim to OceanGate’s lawsuit, Lochridge says he wrote an “OceanGate Cyclops 2 Quality Control Inspection Report” on January 18, 2018, at the request of OceanGate’s Chief Executive Officer, Stockton Rush, who is one of the five passengers on the missing Titan sub. Cyclops 2 was the name initially given to Titan, which disappeared on a dive to explore the Titanic Shipwreck on June 18, 2023. A massive search effort is underway.
The lawsuit counterclaim says that Lochridge was “hired to ensure the safety of all crew and clients during submersible and surface operations.” OceanGate “summarily terminated David Lochridge’s employment because he raised critical safety concerns regarding OceanGate’s experimental and untested design of the Titan,” Lochridge’s counter claim says.
According to The New York Post, Lochridge was not the only person to raise concerns. The Marine Technology Society sent a letter to OceanGate expressing that its members “have collectively expressed unanimous concern regarding the development of TITAN and the planned Titanic Expedition,” The Post reported.
The sub’s design “could result in negative outcomes (from minor to catastrophic) that would have serious consequences for everyone in the industry,” the letter said, according to The Post.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. David Lochridge’s Counter Claim Accused OceanGate of Not Conducting ‘Critical, Non-Destructive Testing’ on the Submersible’s Hull
Lochridge’s lawsuit counterclaim says the company called a meeting on January 19, 2018 to “discuss the safety concerns that David Lochridge documented in his January 18, 2018 OceanGate Cyclops 2 Quality Control Inspection Report.”
Lochridge said he “again expressed concerns at the January 19, 2018 meeting regarding the quality control and safety of the Titan, particularly OceanGate’s refusal to conduct critical, non-destructive testing of the experimental design of the hull.” He was then fired, his counterclaim says.
He objected to OceanGate’s and Rush’s “deviation from the original plan to conduct non-destructive testing and unmanned pressure testing.”
Lochridge disagreed with OceanGate’s position to dive the submersible “without any non-destructive testing to prove its integrity, and to subject passengers to potential extreme danger in an experimental submersible,” the counterclaim says.
Lochridge’s counterclaim says Lochridge was directed by Rush to “test the exits to assess whether alternate escape plans were needed in the event the main hatch was unable to open.”
He also admitted that he had “partially mooned” some members of OceanGate staff in jest.
However, according to OceanGate’s lawsuit, Lochridge owned a company called DC Underwater Servies Ltd., and worked for Vulcan Maritime on the Motor Yacht Octopus.
OceanGate’s lawsuit accuses Lochridge of repeatedly violating the terms of his nondisclosure agreement with Vulcan Maritime.
“Lochridge is not an engineer and was not hired or asked to perform engineering services on the Titan,” the company claimed.
During a meeting about the Titan, Lochridge “repeatedly refused to accept the veracity of information provided by the Company’s lead engineer and repeatedly stated he did not approve of OceanGate’s research and development plans,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says OceanGate fired Lochridge because he told Rush he could not accept OceanGate’s research and development plans going forward.
His company laptop’s hard drive “had been scrubbed of all company and other material,” the suit says.
Lochridge discussed OceanGate’s confidential information with at least two individuals and with representatives of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration “when he filed a false report claiming that he was discharged in retaliation for being a whistleblower,” the company’s lawsuit said.
He had a “cavalier attitude towards the property of OceanGate and its policies and procedures,” the lawsuit continues, including crawling on and around one of the titanium hemispheres for the Cyclops II.
He mooned members of th e engineering staff with whom he had been arguing, the company’s lawsuit says.
2. David Lochridge, Who Is From Scotland, Has an ‘Extensive Background as a Submarine Pilot,’ the Court Documents Say
Lochridge’s counterclaim says that “defendants admit that David Lochridge desired to work indefinitely for OceanGate, and negotiated and received payments as an independent contractor, and then payments and benefits as an employee.”
Lochridge “has extensive background as a submarine pilot and training of the same, including as a qualified CSWIP 3.4U Underwater Inspector, and trained to recognize flaw and points of failure in subsea equipment,” it says.
He started working for OceanGate as an independent contractor in or about May 2015 and “relied on OceanGate’s representations that it would sponsor and help Lochridge and his family obtain visa status to legally work and live in the United States,” the court documents say.
According to the counterclaim, Lochridge “uprooted his family and his entire life in Scotland to move to the United States and reside in Washington State.”
3. David Lochridge Says OceanGate’s Titan Submersible Was ‘Experimental’ Because It Used Carbon Fiber in Its Hull, But There Were ‘Issues of Quality Control’
At that time, OceanGate was developing an “experimental submersible named Cyclops 2 or the ‘Titan,” which “utilized carbon fiber, rather than a metallic composition, in its hull,” the documents say.
OceanGate “intended the experimental Titan to carry passengers and dive to extreme depths of 4,000 meters – a depth never before reached by an OceanGate manned submersible composed of carbon fiber,” Lochridge’s claim says.
At a meeting at the OceanGate facility in Everett, Washington, attended by Rush and other company officials “issues of quality control with the new submersible Titan were raised, as there were evident flaws throughout the build process that several individuals had expressed concerns over to the Engineering Director,” it says.
Rush asked Lochridge to carry out a quality inspection before the handover of the submersible Titan, saying he was the “best man for the job,” the documents add.
4. David Lochridge’s Counterclaim Says He Expressed ‘the Potential Danger to Passengers of the Titan ‘
Lochridge worked on his report and requested paperwork from the Engineering Director regarding the “viewport design and pressure test results of the viewport for the Titan,” the court documents say.
He was “met with hostility and denial of access to the necessary documentation that should have been freely available as part of his inspection process,” the documents allege.
On January 18, 2018, he issued an inspection report that states, “now is the time to properly address items that may pose a safety risk to personnel. Verbal communication of the key items I have addressed in my attached document have been dismissed on several occasions, so I feel now I must make this report so there is an official record in place,” his counterclaim says.
He expressed concern “regarding the lack of non-destructive testing performed on the hull of the Titan. Lochridge was repeatedly told that no scan of the hull or Bond Line could be done to check for delaminations, porosity and voids of sufficient adhesion of the glue being used due to the thickness of the hull,” the documents contend.
“Lochridge was told that no form of equipment existed to perform such a test, and OceanGate instead would rely solely on their acoustic monitoring system that they were going to install in the submersible to detect the start of hull break down when the submersible was about to fail,” it says.
Lochridge “again 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,” the documents say.
“Given the prevalent flaws in the previously tested 1/3 scaled model, and the visible flaws in the carbon end samples for the Titan, Lochridge again stressed the potential danger to passengers of the Titan as the submersible reached extreme depths. The constant pressure cycling weakens existing flaws resulting in large tears of the carbon,” the documents continue.
“Non-destructive testing was critical to detect such potentially existing flaws in order to ensure a solid and safe product for the safety of the passengers and crew.”
5. David Lochridge Says He Was Given 10 Minutes to Clean Out His Desk After He Raised Concern About Titan’s Viewport, Court Documents Say
After the inspection report was issued, OceanGate called a meeting. Lochridge “discovered why he had been denied access to the viewport information from the Engineering department – the viewport at the forward of the submersible was only built to a certified pressure of 1,300 meters, although OceanGate intended to take passengers down to depths of 4,000 meters,” his claim says.
Lochridge learned that the viewport manufacturer “would only certify to a depth of 1,300 meters due to the experimental design of the viewport supplied by OceanGate, which was out of the Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy standards,” the documents say.
“OceanGate refused to pay for the manufacturer to build a viewport that would meet the required depth of 4,000 meters,” they say.
According to the counterclaim, “the paying passengers would not be aware, and would not be informed, of this experimental design, the lack of non-destructive testing of the hull, or that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible.”
Lochridge urged OceanGate to certify the Titan through a classification agency. Instead, OceanGate immediately fired Lochridge and gave him 10 minutes to “immediately clear out his desk and exit the premises,” the counter claim says.