Waiver said ‘death’ three times

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Mike Reiss took extra paper with him to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean in case the deep-sea submersible didn’t return to the surface getting a glimpse of the sunken Titanic last year.

Reiss – an Emmy Award-winning writer-producer for “The Simpsons” – descended 13,000 feet with four others inside OceanGate Expedition’s Titan submersible to see the historic wreckage.

“He knew this was very dangerous,” Reiss’ wife, Denise, told The Post Tuesday. “Even in the most dire situations, he has a joke.”

Reiss returned safely – but now the carbon-fiber submersible is missing. On board are OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush; Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a marine archaeologist who has made dozens of dives to the site; British billionaire explorer Hamish Harding; and British-Pakistani father Shahzada Dawood and his son Sulaiman, scions of a business dynasty.

Just a small handful of people have been to the bottom in the vessel, among them Reiss. In July last year the Reisses paid more than $100,000 – they declined to say exactly how much – to be part of the expedition.


Mike and Denise Reiss
Mike Reiss and his wife Denise in the North Atlantic Ocean last July before the comedy writer descended 13,000 feet to the ocean bottom, where he got a glimpse of the Titanic wreckage.
Courtesy of Mike and Denise Reiss

They flew from home in New York to St. John’s, Newfoundland, then set sail on board the MV Polar Prince, steaming south for 400 miles.

There was plenty of time to contemplate the dangers of such a precarious trip to the bottom of the ocean.

“Death is always lurking, it’s always in the back of your mind,” Reiss, 63, told The Post. “Before you even get on the boat, there’s a long, long waiver that mentions death three times on page one.”

The Polar Prince stopped roughly above the Titanic’s wreckage, where it has sat since April 15, 1912, seen by only a few hundred people. More people have been in space than have set eyes on it.


Mike Reiss
Reiss, 63, said his wife’s last-minute COVID-19 diagnosis cut short her wish to see the Titanic wreckage. descent that lasted more than two hours. “It had never been my dream,” he told The Post.
Courtesy of Mike and Denise Reiss

The couple were both due to dive to the wreckage, but Denise tested positive for COVID, leaving her on the support vessel, watching her husband’s descent.

Reiss received no specialized training before getting into the Titan aside from how to get into a survival suit.


Mike Reiss in front of the Titanic
Reiss was able to see the prow of the Titanic through a porthole only marginally larger than a washing machine door.
Courtesy of Mike and Denise Reiss

Seating arrangement on the Titan
This is the cramped seating plan on the Titan: Just one person can stretch out at a time.
OceanGate

He and his four fellow divers were bolted into the submersible from the outside. They brought cameras, then sat on the floor inside the curved hold just 22 feet long

“It’s like if you took a minivan and took all the seats out, that’s the amount of space you have,” Reiss said. “It’s sort of beautifully designed inside, it feels sort of like a waiting room at a spa, quiet and comfortable.”

Then they sank “like a stone,” gently falling for two hours and 30 minutes.


Titan submersible
Titan, a five-person submersible made by OceanGate Expeditions, had made successful voyages to the Titanic wreckage site since 2021, according to the Washington state-based company.
Facebook/OceanGate Expeditions

“The sub is very, very simple,” the veteran television writer told The Post. “You basically push it in the water and it sinks like a stone. So, it hits bottom and then you sail around and you’re sort of powered by engines that look like desktop fans.”

It was so peaceful that Reiss fell asleep. “People talk about the excitement, the thrills, and, ‘Were you scared?’” Reiss continued. “And it’s like, ‘I feel asleep.’”

The 23,000-pound vessel is steered by a video game controller, Reiss said. He did not feel unsafe during the dive.

“So, it’s super simple technology, which is very calming,” he joked. “It’s not high-tech.”


Stockon Rush
OceanGate founder and CEO Stockton Rush operates the vessel using a video game controller. “It’s not high-tech,” Mike Reiss told The Post.
OceanGate/ Jaden Pan

When they hit the ocean floor, Reiss said the pilot realized the submersible was just 500 yards away from the main wreckage of the Titanic.

“But we didn’t know where and the compass stopped working,” Reiss said. “We spent about 90 minutes just hunting around, trying to find the Titanic but it’s just so dark down there.”

By the time the submersible “stumbled” on the wreckage site, the five had only 20 minutes to gaze at the tragic liner.

“That’s just the luck of the draw. That’s what you got. And you’re at the mercy of weather, and water and technical problems.”


Titanic wreckage
Reiss, who said seeing the wreckage was actually his wife’s dream, described the experience as bumping to a “celebrity in person.”
CBS

Mike Reiss in the Titan
Inside the 22-foot long hull of the submersible, Reiss spent eight hours on a dive which only a handful of people have ever made.
Courtesy of Mike and Denise Reiss

The five crowded around the tiny porthole, only slightly larger than a washing machine door, taking turns to see the awesome sight of the Titanic, lit up by the Titan’s lights.

“I mostly felt like I was seeing a celebrity in person,” Mike said of seeing the Titanic wreckage. “My thought was, ‘Wow, she looks just she does in the pictures.’”

Passengers who took a trip to the site the following day had more than three hours on the ocean floor, Reiss said.

Reiss didn’t feel cramped or claustrophobic inside the vessel – which he praised as a “masterpiece of design.”


Hamish Harding
The passengers currently trapped inside the Titan include British businessman and adventurer Hamish Harding, as well as Titanic expert Paul-Henry Nargeolet, businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman. OceanGate’s CEO and founder, Stockton Rush, is also aboard.
AP

But then came the long ascent, with a dramatic ending.

The “beautiful and sleek” Titan, looking like something straight out of “Star Wars,” encountered buoyancy issues last summer.

To fix the issue, crews strapped huge pieces of “high-tech Styrofoam” to the vessel – a “makeshift” fix to the problem, Reiss said.

As the Titan resurfaced, a winch on the Polar Prince lifted it straight up, Reiss said.

“When the winch grabbed us, the sub went vertical suddenly and all of us five people plunked to the bottom,” Reiss said.


Mike and Denise Reiss
Mike and Denise Reiss aboard the Polar Prince last July prior to his trip to the Titanic wreckage site.
Courtesy of Mike and Denise Reiss

“All of our computers, our food, our water, everything just fell on top of us. And we hung that way for a while.”

Reiss’ wife watched every minute of her husband’s eight hours in the Titan from the Polar Prince.

“I was very concerned all the time, of course,” she said. “We weren’t supposed to be separated, so I had these terrible feelings on what if something happened. I had that fear. I watched every minute of the dive.”

The couple had previously considered booking another OceanGate excursion so Denise could see the wreckage, because although both are fascinated by the Titanic, actually seeing it had really been on her bucket list.


Mike Reiss
Reiss said he didn’t feel unsafe during the voyage, but won’t be returning to the bottom of the Atlantic. He compared the Titan’s “quiet and comfortable” interior to a waiting room at a spa.
Courtesy of Mike and Denise Reiss

“It had never been my dream, it was my wife’s dream,” he said

Reiss said he didn’t feel unsafe during the deep-sea dive, but would not take the risk again.


Stockton Rush
OceanGate CEO and founder Stockton Rush is among five people who remain trapped inside the Titan submersible as of Tuesday.
CBS

“It’s definitely being invented as it goes along,” he said. “I don’t want to disparage it, but it reminds me of the early days of aviation or the space program, where a lot of thought goes into it and then they find a problem.

“The idea that they could be just sitting there lost and waiting for time to run out,” he said of the five trapped adventurers. “That’s a very scary thought.” 


Titan at site
OceanGate Expeditions prepares Titan on Sunday ahead of its voyage to the Titanic wreckage about 435 miles south of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Rescuers think the group’s oxygen supply could run out by early Thursday.
AP

Reiss said he empathized with relatives of the five missing people as rescuers, including US Coast Guard vessels, scoured the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday about 435 miles south of Newfoundland.

“It’s a very tiny vessel in a very big ocean,” he said. “It is built to go where no other vessel to go, so if it’s stuck on the bottom of the ocean, I can’t foresee a way out.”

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