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Navy veteran, submersible pilot from Baton Rouge discusses warning signs surrounding Titan tragedy

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BATON ROUGE - Thursday, the United States Coast Guard announced they found debris from the Titan submersible on the seafloor about 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic. All five people aboard are presumed dead. 

"The debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber. Upon this determination we immediately notified the families," Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger said.

Since Sunday, speculation around the safety of the sub has been a concern. WBRZ spoke with retired Navy Chief and submersible pilot David Wheeler about how bizarre this situation is from his perspective.

"I've never been in a situation or heard of a situation where communications was lost that abruptly and never regained and ended up coming back," Wheeler said.

In 2018 a counterclaim lawsuit was filed by a former OceanGate employee who claimed he was fired for warning about the sub's lack of safety. The company then sued the employee for breaching his contract and sharing company secrets, but that lawsuit was eventually settled out of court.

Another letter from 2018 was sent directly to the CEO of OceanGate, Stockton Rush. It expresses the Marine Technology Society's unanimous concern regarding the development and expedition of the Titan. It also mentions how the experimental approach could result in catastrophic consequences.

Mike Reiss has been on four dives with OceanGate, he said each time they lost communications.

"It's always in the back of your head that this is dangerous," Reiss said.

However, Chief Wheeler says that losing communications is the first sign of failure.

"The whole system works around being able to not lose communications and be aware of where the vehicle is at, at all times. If you lose those systems that are in place, then you surface. You don't wait," Wheeler said.

Now questions arise about the company, the safety and the overall nature of dangerous sight-seeing trips like this.

"I don't know how many other dives they made to the Titanic but I know at least one and maybe two was too many," Wheeler said.

Authorities will begin to demobilize search efforts and personnel Friday. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger says it is still too early to determine if an investigation will be made. 

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