EXCLUSIVE: Stockton Rush, the 61-year-old adventurer and CEO who died this week along with four other crew members in a catastrophic implosion near the bow of the Titanic, appeared in a series of never-before-seen surreal images captured during testing of the vehicle years ago.
In the series of May 2018 photos taken in Abaco, Bahamas, and obtained by Fox News Digital, Rush can be seen peering through the vessel’s lone porthole, testing out computer equipment inside and posing next to the 21-foot submersible on the deck of a ship before the test run.
They were captured by underwater photographer Becky Kagan Schott, who said Rush had tested the vehicle numerous times in the area and she befriended the adventurer.
The Titan was designed to reach depths of 4,000 meters, according to OceanGate, the company Rush founded in 2009. It was meant for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, media production, and site surveying.
The Titan sub vanished Sunday morning one hour and 45 minutes into a dive toward the wreck of the Titanic. Response teams found wreckage of the sub itself Thursday morning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, bringing sad closure to days of a harrowing search at sea.
Rush previously had experience in aviation, becoming “the youngest jet transport rated pilot in the world” at age 19 in 1981, according to his bio on the OceanGate website.
He became an F-15 flight test engineer and later worked with sonar and wireless technologies for marine applications.
“In 1989, Rush personally built a Glasair III experimental aircraft, which he still owns and flies,” according to OceanGate. “He obtained his BSE in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 1984, and his MBA from the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business in 1989.”
Then he got into deep-sea diving, completing dozens of trips in a modified Kittredge K-350 two-person submersible before building the Titan, according to OceanGate.
Stockton’s widow Wendy Rush is a direct descendant of Isador and Ida Straus, who were among more than 1,500 people who died when the iconic Titanic struck an iceberg and sank into the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage in 1912.
Search-and-rescue teams from the U.S., Canada, France and the private sector all joined the effort to try and find survivors, but the Coast Guard revealed Thursday that a deep-sea robot had recovered debris on the bottom of the ocean floor, about 1,600 feet from the Titanic’s bow.
“The debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber. Upon this determination, we immediately notified the families,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger told reporters. “On behalf of the United States Coast Guard and the entire unified command, I offer my deepest condolences to the families.”
The OceanGate CEO was piloting the vessel. Crew members included British businessman turned adventurer Hamish Harding; father-and-son Shahzada and Suleman Dawood, who are members of one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families; and Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a former French navy officer and leading Titanic expert.
“These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans,” OceanGate said in a statement. “Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time.”
Several remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, will remain in the area to gather more information, according to Mauger, but he said he could not estimate the prospects of whether the victims’ remains could be recovered.
“This is incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the sea floor, and the debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel, and so we’ll continue to work and search the area down there, but I don’t have an answer,” he said.
Fox News’ Lawrence Richard and Greg Norman contributed to this report.