As of Thursday morning, the missing submersible carrying five people is presumed to be running out of oxygen after a rescue mission and days-long search has been unable to find them. The passengers paid $250,000 each to tour the remains of the Titanic, though they disappeared before making it to the wreckage. And in an eerie development reported by the New York Times Wednesday night, the vehicle’s pilot, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, is married to Wendy Rush, whose great-great-grandparents died together on the Titanic in 1912.
Per archival records, Rush is descended from Isidor Straus, a retail magnate and co-owner of Macy’s, and his wife, Ida. The pair were first-class passengers on the Titanic’s maiden voyage and among the wealthiest on board. They are now famous for their tragic love story: Titanic survivors have recounted how when the ship was sinking, they saw Isidor refuse a seat on the lifeboat because there were still women and children who hadn’t been rescued. Ida, his wife of 40 years, wouldn’t get on a lifeboat without him, and the elderly couple was “seen standing arm in arm on the Titanic’s deck as the ship went down,” per the Times.
A fictionalized version of the couple was portrayed in James Cameron’s Titanic. “Where you go, I go, Isidor,” Ida (Helen Van Tuyl) says in the iconic scene after her husband begs her to get on a lifeboat.
Isidor’s body was reportedly found at sea weeks after the Titanic sunk, but Ida’s was never recovered. This all may give some context as to why Wendy Rush, OceanGate’s communications director, has gone on multiple expeditions to visit the Titanic wreckage in the past few years—a voyage to a mass grave site that would be deeply unappealing to many of us even if it were free—and devoted her life to a submersibles tourism company. (Rush hasn’t publicly spoken about the missing vessel and didn’t respond to the Times piece on her ancestors.)
I’ve asked myself a lot the past few days why this story of a handful of billionaire tourists gone missing has so completely gripped the world’s attention over, say, the 300 migrants who died this week in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece. But every new detail we learn about this story is just so baffling: that there exist people who’d pay $250,000 to sink to the bottom of the sea in an “experimental” windowless vessel that has a documented history of complaints and faced a massive lawsuit over safety, which you have to be bolted into from the outside, to see literally anything; those bizarre posts by the stepson of one of the missing passengers; that the rescuers have been hearing banging noises underwater but still can’t find these people.
Now we can add to all this the likelihood that the great-great-granddaughter of Ida and Isidor Straus, over a century after the couple went down arm in arm with the Titanic, has lost her husband on a tragic voyage to the same ship.