James Cameron, the director of 1997’s Titanic, said in an interview on Thursday that he had correctly guessed the fate of the Titan submersible less than 24 hours after it disappeared on Sunday—then watched the “futile” search unfold, “hoping against hope that I was wrong.”
Cameron, a prolific deep-sea explorer himself, explained to CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he’d missed the initial news of OceanGate Expeditions losing contact with its submersible, having been out at sea on a ship. By Monday morning, though, he was in contact with his colleagues in what he called “the deep submergence community.”
Learning from them that both communications and tracking had been lost simultaneously, Cameron said he’d begun to suspect an implosion, “a shockwave of events so powerful that it actually took out” tracking, a secondary system with its own fail-safes.
“I got on the horn again with some other people, tracked down some intel that was probably of a military origin, although it could have been researching—because there are hydrophones all over the Atlantic—and got confirmation that there was some kind of loud noise consistent with an implosion event,” the director continued.
“That seemed to me enough confirmation. I let all of my inner circle of people know that we had lost our comrades. And I encouraged everybody to raise a glass in their honor on Monday.”
Cameron said he received the information from “credible sources” and “I took that as a factor… I couldn’t think of any other scenario in which a sub would be lost where it lost comms and navigation at the same time and stayed out of touch and did not surface.”
He told BBC News that the next few days “felt like a prolonged and nightmarish charade where people are running around talking about banging noises and talking about oxygen and all this other stuff.”
“I knew that sub was sitting exactly underneath its last known depth and position,” he said. “That’s exactly where they found it.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed in a press conference that debris evidence found near the wreck of the Titanic suggested that a “catastrophic implosion” had taken place, killing all five people aboard.
Cameron said he had known “in [his] bones” that he had been right even before the announcement. “So it certainly wasn’t a surprise today.”
On CNN, Cameron added he believes the passengers on the sub “had some warning, that they heard some acoustic signature of the hull beginning to delaminate.” Cameron believes he heard delamination–the process when water begins to force layers of fibers apart—“with their ears, not through the sensor system in the last moments of their lives, and that’s quite a horrifying prospect.”
He said it was “unconscionable” that the company in charge of the submersible mission to the Titanic, OceanGate, did not go through appropriate safety procedures. He confirmed he never had business with OceanGate and did not try to warn CEO Stockton Rush of his safety problems, thinking “Maybe they’ve solved it [safety issues].”
In an earlier interview on Thursday, he told ABC News that several of his deep submergence colleagues had written letters to OceanGate officials in the past, warning that their submersible was too experimental and its safety needed to be certified.
“I’m struck by the similarity of the Titanic disaster itself, where the captain was repeatedly warned about ice ahead of his ship, and yet he steamed at full speed into an ice field on a moonless night and many people died as a result,” said Cameron.
“For us, it’s a very similar tragedy where warnings went unheeded. To take place at the same exact site with all the diving that’s going on all around the world, I think it’s just astonishing. It’s really quite surreal.”
A diving expert who has taken part in over 30 deep-sea expeditions, Cameron in 2012 piloted an experimental craft of his own design on a record-breaking dive to an undersea valley in the Mariana Trench.
He “knowingly” did not seek certification for his vessel, he told The New York Times on Thursday, because it was a scientific—and solo—mission.
“I would never design a vehicle to take passengers and not have it certified,” he said.