Stockton Rush “didn’t want anyone telling him what he couldn’t do,” based on Brian Weed, a cameraman who had worked with him.
The CEO of the underwater expedition company OceanGate, Rush, 61, was among the many five individuals who died some 13,000 feet down within the Atlantic Ocean this week when their submersible, Titan, imploded during a visit to view the wreckage of the Titanic.
“He struck me as a cowboy,” Weed, who worked with Rush on a proposed documentary, told The Post. “He was not afraid to do his thing. He talked about no person ever having done what he was doing. So far as he was concerned, he cracked the code.
“He was scrappy, intuitive, creative and committed to this,” Weed said of Rush’s dream to be extreme — and his willingness to interrupt rules to make it come true.
“I feel it was General MacArthur who said ‘You’re remembered for the principles you break’,” Rush said in a single interview. “You already know I’ve broken some rules to make this [the Titan] … It’s picking the principles you break which are those that may add value to others and add value to society.”
It was a renegade mindset that’s now being seen as potentially reckless — but often charmed people.
“I didn’t trust his sub, but I liked him,” Weed said.
Weed went on a dive in Rush’s submersible while working on a possible show about him for Discover channel.
However the dive failed — “We were sitting within the water and lost propulsion,” Weed said — and Titan needed to be brought up prematurely. Weed was spooked.
“I extricated myself from the dive,” he added. “I didn’t trust it.
“Stockton thought the things that went unsuitable were minor and they might be easy fixes. I frightened that the issue we experienced would require extensive testing. Stockton thought there can be nothing to fret about,” Weed said. “He was sure that we might still do the show … and we didn’t, attributable to safety reasons. He was all-in on his submersible and 100% believed in it.”
David Lochridge, OceanGate’s former director of marine operations, has claimed that he had raised concerns a couple of “lack of non-destructive testing performed on the hull of the Titan” — but that when he brought them to Rush, he was wrongfully terminated, based on a lawsuit.
In a 2022 interview with CBS, Rush claimed “we worked with Boeing and NASA and the University of Washington” on the Titan. But all three have denied this, based on CNN.
“[Rush] told me, ‘Once you’re trying something outside the box, people contained in the box think you’re nuts,’” journalist David Pogue — who spent nine days with Rush for “CBS Sunday Morning” — told The Post. “Certification would have meant a security agency telling him what he could and will not do in submersible design. He viewed that because the enemy of innovation.
“Probably the most alarming thing is that there have been every kind of off the shelf low-cost components,” Pogue remembered from his time on the sub. “He got the lights within the sub from camperworld.com. He told me that and chuckled.”
In 2017 a colleague described Rush to Businessweek as a “full-speed-ahead, damn-the-torpedoes form of guy.”
He also mentioned the danger of that: “Within the submersible industry, extreme depth is all about precision and control. Nothing might be left to probability.”
But Rush seemed willing to just do that.
In 2018, the Marine Technology Society (MTS) warned OceanGate that TItan’s experimental design and failure to follow industry-accepted safety protocols could lead on to “catastrophic” results.
Even individuals who lived high-risk lives were uncomfortable with Rush’s seeming disdain for safety; because the CEO told “CBS Sunday Morning,” “Should you just wish to be secure, don’t get away from bed.”
“I’d have never gotten into that unit,” Butch Hendricks, who teaches extreme undersea diving, told The Post. “He couldn’t explain enough safety procedures to make me do it. He would just tell those that that they had a fantastic maintenance program. He had his own ideas about how one can make things work.”
As for the plastic video-game controller used to pilot the ship, Hendricks described it as “Mickey Mouse.”
Rush’s daredevil, devil-may-care attitude went back to his childhood when he announced to his family that he desired to be an astronaut. Members of the family reportedly assumed he would grow out of it. He didn’t.
The scion to an oil and gas fortune in San Francisco, teenaged Rush was lucky enough to be introduced by his father to Pete Conrad, commander of Apollo 12. It was Conrad who suggested that Rush get his pilot’s license — which he did at age 18, making him then one in all the youngest industrial pilots on this planet.
Rush landed a gig that had him flying chartered planes out and in of Saudi Arabia. He described it to Smithsonian magazine as “the best summer job.”
But professionally built planes weren’t enough for renegade Rush. He built his own plane, from a kit, while studying aerospace engineering at Princeton.
“He’s very much within the Right Stuff mode,” Pogue said. “He built a fiberglass airplane and got the exact same pushback from engineers and other interested parties that he got with the Titan. The plane proved to achieve success and I feel it emboldened him.”
While on the university, the Princetonian reported, Rush was charged with drunk driving in 1983 after allegedly driving his Volkswagen right into a shuttle train called the Dinky.
After school, he worked as a flight-test engineer on F-15 fighter jets for McDonnell Douglas. After imperfect eyesight dashed his dreams of becoming an astronaut, Rush considered buying a ticket for a future Virgin Galactic suborbital flight.
But standing within the Mojave Desert during a 2014 test flight, watching Branson showboat on the wing of the grounded spacecraft, Rush was turned off by the concept of sanitized space-tourism.
“I desired to be Captain Kirk on the Enterprise,” he told Smithsonian. “I desired to explore.”
Changing his trajectory, Rush began piecing together his first submarine; built from spare parts, it was designed to go only 30 feet underwater. But Rush was quick to take it to 100 feet.
And he projected a confidence that convinced people to trust him, Weed said.
“He was willing to go down with it,” Weed said. “That goes a good distance in convincing any person to do it.”
It definitely worked on Mike Reiss, a author and producer on “The Simpsons” who took multiple dives on Titan and was somewhat impressed by Rush’s reckless edge.
“He was probably the most meticulous guy, but there was definitely the daredevil in him.” Reiss told The Post. “He’s probably the most amazing man I ever met in my life. He was movie-star handsome, spoke beautifully and was at all times in command. He loved checklists.”
As for who was chargeable for the carbon fiber composite hull that “Titanic” director James Cameron has called the vessel’s likely “critical failure,” Reiss believes that it was Rush himself.
“The carbon fiber was something he did,” said Reiss. “He was very happy with it. We [passengers] saw footage of the carbon fiber being wrapped across the sub.”
As for the death of Rush and his five passengers, Reiss said, “It was a disaster, but he got 10 groups to the Titanic and I feel he’d consider that it was value it. It’s a tragedy and Stockton was my friend but I’m not heartbroken. This just isn’t an unexpected way for him to die. I bet he expected to go this manner.”