OceanGate co-founder is planning a trip to one of the world's deepest ocean sinkholes

Guillermo Söhnlein, who left OceanGate to start his own company, is the expedition leader for the excursion to the virtually unexplored area.
Dean's Blue Hole
Posted at 9:42 PM, Jun 21, 2024

A year after the OceanGate submersible disaster, the company's co-founder is planning another excursion into the deep blue, this time into a "virtually unexplored" sinkhole.

Guillermo Söhnlein founded OceanGate with Stockton Rush — who died in the submersible implosion — in 2009, aiming to create submersibles to rent to researchers and tourists. He left the company in 2013, though he retained a minority stake, and founded Blue Marble Exploration.

Now tacking expedition leader to his title at the company, Söhnlein is piloting a trip to the Bahamas' Dean's Blue Hole, which his company calls an "enigma for geologists studying underwater caverns."

"Venturing into uncharted waters, our team will have to 'expect the unexpected,'" Blue Marble Exploration's website states.

Dean's Blue Hole is the third-deepest blue hole in the world, with a depth of 663 feet. It formed more than 15,000 years ago and is enclosed by three sides of "natural rock amphitheater" and a fourth side of turquoise lagoon and white beach, according to the Bahamas' official website.

Blue Marble Exploration says the blue hole's depth makes it "inaccessible to even the most experienced divers, and its remote location makes it incredibly difficult to launch major surface-based operations."

Though it's been explored in the past, this will be the first for a crewed submersible. And there will be some extra challenges.

The company says there may be openings in the walls of the chambers that connect the cavern to the Atlantic Ocean, potentially creating unpredictable currents and thermal layers that could interfere with operations. Plus, the floor of the blue hole will be in complete darkness and carrying a pressure of almost 300 pounds per square inch, nearly 20 times more than what's on the surface.

It's unclear what type of submersible that will be used in the expedition, but an ability to sustain that type of pressure and beyond will likely be one of the most necessary traits — particularly after the OceanGate incident.

That company's Titan submersible gained international attention when it went missing with five passengers while attempting to travel nearly 13,000 feet below sea level to visit the Titanic wreckage. Officials later confirmed the craft imploded due to a "catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber," instantly killing all people aboard and raising alarms about the safety of extreme tourism.

OceanGate has since suspended all exploration and commercial operations.

After the implosion, Söhnlein expressed that he hoped the memory of the five explorers could be kept alive through further deep-ocean exploration, which he says would be promoting what "they believed in and were passionate about," according to the Seattle Times.

"Those of us who work in the deep-ocean community know that there are risks. We know that working down there is difficult," he told the outlet. "And yet we all believe in what we're doing. We believe that what we're doing is greater than us. It's worth the risk, and it's our way of contributing to creating a brighter future for humanity and the planet.

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