Deep Thoughts


OPINION — Unless you’re the guy who’s been living in the cardboard box behind my neighbor’s tool shed, you’ve probably heard about the tourist submersible that went missing while it was diving on the wreck of the Titanic recently. Actually, the guy living behind Bob’s shed probably heard about it, too. He’s got an iPhone.

Anyway, the submersible belonged to a company called OceanGate, which is not to be confused with Watergate, although the irony is a little hard to miss. OceanGate does ocean expeditions, research and exploration, and tourism trips. The submersible, called the Titan, was about 22 feet long and nine feet wide. It’s probably a lot smaller than that, now. Just sayin.

The OceanGate Titan sub as seen on its website on June 20, 2023

The OceanGate Titan sub as seen on its website on June 20, 2023

The idea was to dive down to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean so four rich people could take a gander, firsthand, at the wreck of the Titanic, which sank in 1912, and remains sunk. Very sunk, matter of fact. It’s 12,500 feet below the surface, which is bumping two and half miles deep. It’s not a spot you just swing by on your way home from work. Kinda hard to get to.

OceanGate charged a quarter of a million bucks a pop for the trip, which is a little out of the price range of the average bear. I can’t afford it. Neither can the guy living behind Bob’s shed. I asked.

The trip costs a lot because some major technology is required to build a submersible, and train someone to operate it, and make sure it’s strong enough to stand up to the immense pressure of the deep ocean. Plus you need a way to steer the thing which, as it turns out, you can do with an Xbox controller from Radio Shack. Who knew?

A PS2 Game Controller. The Titan submersible actually used a Logitech game controller off the secondary market.

A PS2 Game Controller. The Titan submersible actually used a Logitech game controller off the secondary market.

Seriously, the device used to pilot the sub was a ‘repurposed’ Logitech game controller, which kind of makes me wonder if OceanGate was overcharging a little on ticket prices. To be fair, they sprung for the wireless model of controller, although I’m not sure I’d want to stake my life on a Bluetooth connection at the bottom of the sea. But then, I wouldn’t go down in a sub like that anyway, even if I could afford it. Which we’ve already established I can’t.

But it wasn’t the controller that caused the trip to go south, it was evidently the hull of the sub that failed. It was made of high-tech carbon fiber, or some such, which is really lightweight and strong, but evidently not strong enough. As Doc Holiday would say, ‘I’m afraid the strain was more than it could bear.’ The sub imploded from the pressure, according to the Coast Guard. Bummer.

A lot of people are being critical of OceanGate for using a game controller in the sub, and more are being critical of the rich people who died, either for being rich or for going on such a trip for kicks, but extreme tourism seems to be getting popular these days. People like Jeff Bezos and William Shatner taking a short trip to space is a good example. If you have enough money you can go pretty much wherever you want. You evidently can’t always come back, but no plan is perfect.

This is not really a new thing. People have been risking their lives for thrills ever since thrills were invented. The big thing used to be climbing mountains. In 1923 a reporter asked George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, and Mallory said, ‘Because it’s there.’ Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach that peak, thirty years later, and were hailed as heroes. None of their gear came from Radio Shack, as far as I know.

Now, a lot of people have climbed Mt. Everest since 1953, and while that level of thrill-seeking costs about the same as a trip to the Titanic, there’s a big difference between the two. Climbing Everest requires a huge expenditure of effort and at least a respectable amount of skill, besides a suitcase full of cash. It’s not the same as writing a check and having the bo’sun’s mate hold your hand while you gingerly step into the hatch of a little boat. You have to work for Everest.

Not everyone comes back from that one, either, of course. Plenty have died trying to bag that peak. In fact, there are more than 200 bodies still on the mountain, too high up to be retrieved without monumental effort in an environment where survival depends as much on will as ability, preparation, and strength. But then, as Scott Glenn said in Vertical Limit, ‘Up there, you’re not dying, you’re already dead.’

Scott Glenn said in Vertical Limit, ‘Up there, you’re not dying, you’re already dead.’

Scott Glenn said in Vertical Limit, ‘Up there, you’re not dying, you’re already dead.’

The people who got into a submersible to see the Titanic evidently spent their own money for the trip, which was their choice. They also assumed the risks to their own lives, which was also their choice. I’m not being critical, just pragmatic. I may end up going out in a similar way one of these days, although I’ll need a coupon, or something.

But I’m not going to stake my life on a bluetooth video game controller. I’ve already repurposed one from my kids’ old PlayStation PS2. It’s got a wire . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who never goes more than two miles deep in the ocean. Write to him at [email protected]

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