Former OceanGate tourist calls his 2021 Titanic sub trip a 'kamikaze operation'

A former OceanGate Expeditions customer who took a trip to see the Titanic wreckage two years ago described the dive as a "kamikaze operation."

An international search and rescue operation is ongoing for five crew members on OceanGate's Titan sub, which went missing Sunday on a planned deep sea tourist expedition. Arthur Loibl, a retired German businessman and adventurer who went on the same trip in 2021, shared his experience with OceanGate in an interview with The Associated Press.

"You have to be a little bit crazy to do this sort of thing," Loibl said.

He explained that the idea of touring the Titanic wreckage came to him on a trip to the South Pole in 2016. At the time, a Russian company was the only service offering videos for half a million dollars.


OceanGate, company behind missing Titanic tourist sub, once subject of lawsuit over safety complaints

The five-person submersible weighs 20,000 pounds and is capable of diving 13,120 feet

Washington state-based OceanGate announced its own Titanic operation a year later and Loibl seized the opportunity. He chartered a dive with OceanGate in 2019, paying a whopping $110,000, but that dive was canceled because the first submersible didn't survive testing.

In 2021, he went on a voyage that was successful along with OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush and French diver and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet — who are now missing — along with two men from England.

"Imagine a metal tube a few meters long with a sheet of metal for a floor. You can’t stand. You can’t kneel. Everyone is sitting close to or on top of each other," Loibl told the AP."You can’t be claustrophobic."

OceanGate's sub experienced technical difficulties on the dive, Loibl said. He described how lights were turned off to conserve energy during the 2.5-hour descent and ascent, with the only illumination coming from a glow stick.

21 June 2023, Bavaria, Straubing: A photo on a tablet shows Arthur Loibl, a former passenger of the "Titan," in front of the mini-submarine of the provider Oceangate Expeditions. In 2021, Loibl was one of the first passengers to descend to the "Titan

The dive was repeatedly delayed to fix a problem with the battery and the balancing weights. In total, the voyage took 10.5 hours.

In the end, Loibl said his group was lucky and enjoyed an amazing view of the wreck. Other customers only got to see a field of debris or, in some cases, nothing at all. Some customers lost nonrefundable payments after bad weather prevented the dive from happening safely.

He described Rush as a tinkerer who tried to make do with what was available to carry out the dives, but in hindsight, he said, "it was a bit dubious."

"I was a bit naive, looking back now," Loibl said. "It was a kamikaze operation."

Another former passenger who visited the Titanic wreck site on board OceanGate's now-missing Titan submersible craft said everyone involved knew the risks of the "dangerous mission." 

Fred Hagen spoke to "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday morning as the Coast Guard estimates there is less than 24 hours of oxygen remaining in the Titan, which vanished Sunday on an expedition to visit what remains of the Titanic. 

"There were safety protocols in place. I know there is a big controversy now that there has been a catastrophe, people are second-guessing and wondering why there weren’t backup systems," said Hagen, a businessman and explorer from Pennsylvania. "We were all told — intimately informed — that this was a dangerous mission that could result in death and injury. So that was well understood."

"We were versed in how the sub operated, we were versed in various protocols — but it’s not a safe operation inherently," he added. "And that is part of research and development and exploration and experimentation."

The search and rescue operation for the missing OceanGate Titan submersible has entered its fifth day.

The five passengers on board have been identified as Rush, Nargeolet, British businessman and explorer Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and Dawood's son Sulaiman Dawood.

The sub began its journey to the Titanic on Sunday morning with 96 hours of oxygen on board, according to OceanGate’s website.

Operators then lost contact with the vessel about one hour and 45 minutes into its descent. 

It has not been heard from since and its current whereabouts remain unknown. The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed underwater robots to comb the ocean floor in search of the Titan. The search was joined Thursday by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) owned by the French vessel L'Atalante, the Coast Guard said. 

Authorities said the missing sub would run out of oxygen sometime Thursday morning. 

Fox News' Greg Norman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.