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Lonsberry column: We went into a cemetery and put up a carnival

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A column by Bob Lonsberry

(Editor’s note: On Thursday, The U.S. Coast Guard announced five men, including one teenager, were declared dead after rescue teams found debris from the ship on the ocean floor 2.5 miles from the surface “consistent with catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber.” The five paid $250,000 each for a dive in OceanGate’s 22-foot submersible to see the wreckage of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean)

The calculation of hours and cubic feet says that, with five adults of normal size, the mix of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air and in their blood has tilted to a ratio that will not sustain human life.

If they did not succumb to some catastrophe of the vessel, and survived the hypothermic temperatures of four days and nights, and if their minds endured the claustrophobia and the terror and the rage, if they have not strangled or beaten one another to death, then a diver and a billionaire and a father and son have slipped free the restraints of life in the company of a man whose folly has killed them all.

It was hubris in 1912 that sent more than 1,500 people to their deaths, and it is hubris in 2023 which has sent five more after them. There is something about that little patch of Atlantic 400 miles south of Newfoundland that reminds us how small we are, and powerless, and subject to the dangers of pride.

There is no such thing as an unsinkable ship, and you can’t cut corners with safety, and the dreams of men are routinely and randomly crushed in the vagaries of nature.

And as the world with its billions looks on, most are astounded at a craft with no tether, no beacon, no escape hatch, no Plan B and, consequently, no hope. The ships may sail and the planes may fly, but even if it had been possible to locate the disabled sub in the minutes after it went silent, there was no means to lift it, no way to deliver it, no hope of escaping it.

And it wasn’t located minutes after it went silent. In fact, the alert wasn’t even sounded until eight hours had passed. They kept waiting for it to bob to the surface, for some miracle of radio communication to occur, for everything to be all better. Maybe they were afraid of damaging the brand, of scaring away the billionaires willing to pay a quarter million dollars to take a selfie by the bridge of the monster ship where hundreds had frozen and drowned. When adventure becomes what you can buy instead of what you can do, crazy things happen.

And so it was that five men were sealed up in a deathtrap to achieve nothing more substantive than the stroking of their egos. The wreckage of the Titanic has been scanned and mapped and studied.

Real explorers went there once, led by Bob Ballard, and others have followed in their wake, but the era of discovery on Titanic has long since ended. There is nothing to be gained by rich men taking cell-phone pictures through a porthole.

This was not science, it was vanity.

A vanity led by a man who lied about consulting with experts and agencies relative to the construction of his ship, a man who hired crew based on age and race, a man who was dynamic, but not wise, a man who thought a signed waiver made the recklessness acceptable.

It was great TV, and the world’s networks did advertisements dressed up as news.

Breathless reporters on the deck of the support ship, bolted in the metal of the beast, well lit and coiffed on a studio set. All buying into the myth that this ghastly digging through a tragedy of the last century was normal, healthy and exciting.

We went to a cemetery and put up a carnival.

In the waters where mothers and children drowned below decks in Third Class, rich men compare notes about flying in Bezos little rocket and which Sherpas they used on Everest.

It’s obscene, in a way, but to each his own. One may waste his money and his life however he chooses.

But let’s not pretend that this tragedy was either romantic or adventurous. It was a fool’s errand which has apparently come to a horrific end. Hearts are broken and lives are lost because a poorly designed vessel failed, because safety standards were ignored, because misadventure was not anticipated. It was a very expensive rollercoaster ride at a poorly maintained amusement park, and the world has looked on in horror.

And the North Atlantic has claimed five more, lost in the search for a thrill. The vanity of man is eternal, but so, too, are the roiling waters of the great ocean.

Bob Lonsberry, a Canisteo native, is the father of nine children, a veteran of the United States Army, and a newsman for nearly three decades. The former newspaper columnist, reporter, and author, is a marathon runner. You can hear Bob mornings on NewsRadio WHAM 1180 in Rochester and NewsRadio 570 WSYR and 106.9 FM in Syracuse. You can reach him at bob@lonsberry.com

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