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Titan submersible: James Cameron reflects on his Titanic dives

James, Cameron, director of the 1997 movie ‘Titanic,’ regrets not speaking up earlier about the design of the Titan submersible that went missing Sunday and was confirmed several days later by a U.S. Coast Guard official that it met a violent end in a “catastrophic implosion.”

Speaking to Reuters in an interview Thursday, the day a coast guard official confirmed the news, Cameron said he knew the story would end in tragedy.

“For them to lose communication and tracking at the same time… the sub was gone, there was no question in my mind,” he said. “For days I tried to run other scenarios that could account for it (but) I could come up with nothing.”

Cameron, known for directing blockbuster Hollywood movies, is also an avid explorer with 72 submersible dives under his name. A part of the community of deep-sea adventurers, Cameron also explored the Mariana Trench in a custom-built submersible he co-designed.

On Sunday afternoon the Titan, owned and operated by OceanGate Expeditions, was reported to the U.S. Coast Guard as missing when the mother ship lost contact with the vessel.

Five people were on board and are now presumed dead by officials.

The Titan was headed to the 1912 Titanic shipwreck, a site about 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland and one Cameron has visited 33 times.

“It’s not lost on me as somebody who studied the meaning of Titanic, it’s greater meaning to us, historically and societally,” Cameron said.

The Titanic crossed into the North Atlantic Ocean on April 14, 1912, sailing under clear skies. The ship’s captain was warned about icebergs in the area, which Cameron says was ignored.

“That ship (Titanic) lies at the bottom of the ocean, not because of the nature of its steel or the nature of its compartments, but just because of bad seamanship,” he said.

Cameron says there are similarities between the Titan and the Titanic because both were given warnings.

The construction of the Titan submersible had been criticized by people within the community in 2018 and later, during the search, further experts commented on its “unusual” building materials and vulnerable window.

According to OceanGate, the Titan was made of carbon fibre and titanium and measured 6.7 metres long. It weighed 9,525 kilograms and could reach a depth of up to 4,000 metres.

“I never believed in that technology of wound carbon fibre…I thought it was a horrible idea. I wish I’d spoken up,” Cameron said. “But I assumed somebody was smarter than me because I never experimented with that technology, but it just sounded bad on its face.”

Cameron said submersibles are usually made of steel, titanium, ceramic and acrylic, cut from one large piece with fewer areas for seams.

“You can’t do that with a composite material because it’s too dissimilar materials sort of blended together,” Cameron said of the carbon fibre and titanium mix. “So, we (submersible community) all knew that the danger was delamination, progressive failure over time with microscopic water ingress and fatigue (of materials).”


To watch part of the interview click the video at the top of this article.   

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