By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – For a year, Stockton Rush had tried to convince Las Vegas-based investor Jay Bloom to buy a couple of spots on his company’s submersible so Bloom and his son could experience the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of visiting the deep-sea wreck of the Titanic.
Bloom was intrigued, he said in an interview on Friday. His son Sean, now 20, had been fascinated by the story of the doomed British passenger liner as a child.
But the more Bloom read about the Titan submersible, the more concerned he grew about how safe it was. So he said he politely declined a last-minute chance to join the season’s final expedition, claiming scheduling conflicts.
Instead, Bloom said, the two available seats on board went to Pakistani-born magnate Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman – who perished, along with Rush and two others, this week when the Titan imploded deep below the surface of the Atlantic.
For Bloom, who lost a good friend, actor Treat Williams, in a motorcycle accident less than two weeks ago, the tragedy was a reminder of what really matters in life.
“Every time I see a picture of that Pakistani businessman and his 19-year-old son, I think how easily that could have been me and my 20-year-old son – but for the grace of God,” Bloom said.
On Thursday, after the U.S. Coast Guard announced it had located pieces of the Titan on the ocean floor, Bloom posted a series of text messages on Facebook between himself and Rush from earlier this year, in which Rush dismissed the notion that the trip was dangerous.
“While there’s obviously a risk, it’s way safer than flying in a helicopter or even scuba diving,” Rush wrote in one message, asserting that no one had even been hurt aboard a non-military sub in 35 years.
Bloom, who has a private helicopter license, was unconvinced. He was particularly worried about Stockton’s use of consumer-grade parts in the Titan – including a video game joystick used to control the vessel – and the novel carbon-fibre hull, and he was “spooked” by the fact that passengers were unable to open the Titan from the inside, even in an emergency.
“The more I learned about what was going on with Stockton’s operation, the more concerned I got,” he said.
Guillermo Söhnlein, who co-founded OceanGate with Rush in 2009, said Rush was “keenly aware” of the dangers of exploring the ocean depths and was “very risk-averse.”
But safety questions about the Titan’s design had been raised as far back as 2018, both by industry experts and by a former employee of Rush’s firm.
Bloom said Rush’s confidence was unshakable.
“It was his dream,” Bloom said. “He’s a good guy, I really liked him, and I think he had good intentions. But he drank his own Kool-Aid.”