A Florida couple has sued the CEO of Titanic tourism company Oceangate Expeditions, accusing him of misleading them about a trip to visit the wreck and refusing to refund their $210,258 when they complained.
Mark and Sharon Hagle, who made their fortune in commercial real estate, are well known for their philanthropy and their adventurous spirit. In March 2022, they were on the fourth Blue Origin passenger space flight and became the first married couple to become space tourists.
In 2016, while on a trip to the South Pole, they decided their next adventure would be underwater. In 2017 they were announced among the first customers of OceanGate, which was founded in 2009 by Seattle-born aviator and businessman Stockton Rush, now 61.
But they never got to go on their trip, and sued Rush in February of this year, accusing him of selling the adventure knowing it wasn’t on schedule and refusing to refund their cash.
Oceangate’s submarine, the Titan, is currently missing along with five people on board after losing contact while plunging into the wreckage of the Titanic, about 12,500 feet below the Atlantic.
A frantic search and rescue operation is underway to locate and recover the ship before the 96-hour oxygen supply runs out.
Mark Hagel, 74, and his wife Sharon, 73, went into space on Blue Origin’s fourth trip in March 2022. They intended to visit the Titanic wreck with Oceangate and paid in 2017, but sued for fraud in February this year.
This is the last sighting of the submersible, Titan, which was launched on Sunday. Hamish Harding is seen in a photo shared by his company. He and four others on board remain unaccounted for
OceanGate Expeditions is the only company that offers tours. Tickets cost up to $250,000.
Who is Stockton Rush?
Seattle-born Rush, 61, founded OceanGate Expeditions in 2009 — after trying and failing to buy the submarine of explorer and businessman Steve Fawcett after the explorer died in a 2007 plane crash.
As a young man, Rush was more interested in space than the deep sea: at 19, he qualified with the United Airlines Jet Training Institute to become the world’s youngest jet transport-rated pilot.
For the next three years he flew for Saudi Arabia Airlines during summer breaks from his aerospace engineering course at Princeton.
From 1984 he worked with the US Air Force on the F-15s and the anti-satellite missile program, eventually aiming to join the space program.
Rush earned an MBA from Berkeley and worked for several companies specializing in sonar, subsea technology, and radar.
Stockton Rush, CEO of Oceangate
He built a Glacier III experimental aircraft that he flew regularly and his own Kittredge K-350 two-man submersible.
Rush had always intended to take tourists to Titania: in 2017, he said he then planned to tour hydrothermal vents, or deep-sea canyons, and underwater battlefields.
He then hopes to work in oil and gas exploration.
In 2018, the Marine Technology Society’s Manned Underwater Vehicles Committee, a 60-year-old trade group, warned that the company’s current ‘experimental’ approach could lead to ‘minor to catastrophic’ problems.
The company also sacked David Lochridge, who was director of marine operations for the Titan project, after disagreeing with demands for more stringent safety checks on the submarine, including ‘tests to prove its integrity’.
Additionally, the company has opted against ‘classifying’ the craft, an industry-wide practice where independent inspectors ensure that vessels meet accepted technical standards.
Among those taking part in recent raids are billionaire Hamish Harding, CEO of Dubai’s Action Aviation, and Shahzada Dawood, 48, a board member of the UK-based Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19.
Rush is understood to have been on board the ship that went missing on Sunday, along with French Navy veteran PH Nargiolet.
The Haggles claim that Rush, a Princeton-educated engineer and pilot with an MBA from Berkeley, traveled to their home in Winter Park, a suburb of Orlando, Florida, to persuade them to buy into his company.
The submersible he intended to use was named Cyclops 2 – since renamed Titan.
‘During their September 27, 2017 meeting, Rush made several false statements of material fact to Plaintiffs, including, without limitation: (a) about the status of development and testing of Cyclops 2 as of that date, (b) that Cyclops 2 would make 2018 Prepare to dive on Titanic by June,’ reads the suit, obtained by The Daily Beast.
‘(c) If Plaintiffs have any questions or concerns regarding the integrity and/or timing of Cyclops 2’s mission, if it is delayed, they may request and request a full refund of all monies received, including but not limited to. questions asked, and (d) Plaintiff’s deposit was, and any future payments by Plaintiff would be held in a dedicated client escrow account separate from his or Oceangate’s funds.’
They claim the trip was postponed three times a year, due to testing requirements and unspecified ‘equipment failure’.
They said their money was not – as promised – kept in a separate account, where they could retrieve it.
The agency reportedly told Haggles that he could join the 2021 mission to sink the Titanic, but would not be reimbursed.
They argued that Rush violated state fraud and unfair and deceptive practices laws.
The Hagles are seeking their money back, as well as attorney fees and other compensation for their suffering. It is unclear the status of the case
‘Given the willful, wanton and egregious nature of Rush’s conduct, Plaintiffs reserve the right to seek punitive damages here,’ the complaint states.
Asked about the suit, Mark Hagel told The Daily Beast: ‘My thoughts go out to the owners of Oceangate, the people on the divers, both the crew and the guests.
‘And we’re hoping for a miracle and everyone gets home safely.
‘I think the applications speak for themselves.’
Asked about the case, Oceangate said: ‘Our entire focus is on the well-being of the crew and every possible step is being taken to safely return the five crew members.’
It emerged on Tuesday that Oceangate’s safety record has been questioned by an industry body.
A 2018 letter to Rush, obtained by The New York Times, warned that the company’s current ‘experimental’ approach could result in problems ranging from ‘minor to catastrophic’.
Underwater industry leaders have sent a letter to Oceangate CEO Stockton Rush (pictured) – who is currently missing with the ship – urging him to take precautions.
It was sent by the Marine Technology Society’s Manned Underwater Vehicles Committee, a 60-year-old trade group whose mission is to promote marine technology and educate the public about it.
But it’s unclear whether an employee or Rush himself responded to the letter, and there were no further details about why the method was deemed dangerous.
Officials searching for the missing Saab have warned that they may not be able to recover the missing tourist Saab even if they find it.
The sub had just 40 hours of oxygen supply as of Tuesday afternoon, giving rescue crews until Thursday morning to find it before it ran out.
Salvage crews from the US, France and Canada are still trying to locate the ship, which is understood to have last ‘pinged’ while directly above the Titanic wreckage.
First District Response Coordinator Capt. Jamie Frederick said the Coast Guard has already searched 7,600 square miles of ocean — a search area the size of Connecticut.
The Boston Coast Guard is currently searching for the missing vessel. The wreck of the Titanic sits 12,500 feet underwater, about 370 miles off Newfoundland, Canada.
Among those taking part in the campaign is billionaire Hamish Harding (pictured), CEO of Action Aviation in Dubai. She excitedly posted on social media about being there on Sunday
Shahzada Dawood, 48, (pictured with his wife Christine) is a board member of the UK-based Prince’s Trust charity, and his son Sulaiman Dawood, 19, is among the five who went missing after visiting the wreckage of the submarine. Titanic, it was released today
At 12,500 feet underwater, there are few ships capable of diving deep enough to find it.
It comes after Newstimesuk.com revealed that OceanGate had refused to put their submersibles through an independent inspection process and asked for stricter safety checks after firing a director in 2018.
Bosses sacked David Lochridge, who was director of marine operations for Project Titan, after disagreeing with demands for more stringent safety checks on the submarine, including ‘tests to prove its integrity’.
The company has also opted against ‘grading’ the craft, an industry-wide practice where independent inspectors ensure vessels meet accepted technical standards.
OceanGate, which charges up to $250,000 for a seat on submersibles, suggested it could take years to get the classification and would be ‘starved of rapid innovation’.
In 2019, the firm added that seeking classification for the Titan ‘would not ensure that operators adhere to the correct operating procedures and decision-making processes – two areas that are critical to reducing risks at sea’.
The Titanic is currently missing with five people on board after communication was lost while diving into the wreckage of the Titanic, about 12,500 feet below the Atlantic.
Oceangate bosses sacked Project Titan marine operations director David Lochridge in 2018 after it disagreed with demands for more stringent safety checks on the submarine, which is missing after a mission to the wreck of the Titanic.
Classification involves appointing an independent organization to ensure that vessels such as ships and submersibles meet industry-wide technical standards. This is an important way to ensure that a vessel is fit to sail.
The Marine Technology Society’s Manned Underwater Vehicles Committee said in a statement about the tragedy that the ‘modern commercial submarine industry’ is ‘regulated according to international safety standards through classification.’
They added: ‘These organizations have regulations and safety standards for the design and construction of systems from submersible vehicles to supertankers and oil platforms.
‘The main classification societies for submersibles include the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Det Nortke Veritas (DNV) and Lloyd’s Registry (LR).
‘The submarine industry has a 50-year incident-free safety record.
‘This is due to the engineering discipline and professional approach practiced by members of the industry and the collective monitoring (and adherence) to a variety of safety standards.’
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