What's the appeal of extreme adventures like the missing sub? A friend and fellow adventurer explains

Per Wimmer said adventurers like him and his friends try to “test the boundaries” and “do something extraordinary.”

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It’s not for everyone but, for a certain type of adventurer, descending to the depths of the ocean inside a small and cramped vessel means “doing something extraordinary,” a friend of two of the people aboard the missing Titan submersible told NBC News Thursday.

Per Wimmer, who describes himself as an astronaut, adventurer, explorer, philanthropist, global financier, author and private island owner, operates in those circles. 

The Danish national, 54, said in a telephone interview that he is friends with Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate, the company that chartered the submersible, and British billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding, who were among the five aboard the vessel when it lost contact with its mother ship on Sunday. Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Suleman, were also on board, along with French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77.

Describing them as “adventurers,” Wimmer said they tried to “test the boundaries” and “do something extraordinary.”

A maritime surveillance aircraft searches for the Titan off Newfoundland, Canada, on Tuesday.
Jessica Fox / Canadian Forces

Adventurers like himself aren’t blind to the risks, he said, adding that they calculate and weigh those risks against what they see as potential benefits.

“What’s the probability things can go wrong? But also what’s the upside in doing it?” said Wimmer, who worked for Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company before setting up his own investment bank, Wimmer Financial. “As adventurers, that’s what we do — we break records, we break boundaries.”

Wimmer said he tried to visit the Titanic on the very same submersible in 2021 but “bureaucratic” problems meant they never left port. 

He said he had completed astronaut training with Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space program Virgin Galactic and is signed up to go into space with its SpaceShipTwo. According to his bio, he also completed a tandem skydive over Mount Everest in 2008 and spent time in the Amazon.

An MIR submersible observes the Titanic wreckage in 2003.Walt Disney Co. / via Everett Collection

It’s a life that “does attract accomplished entrepreneurs” or “at least people who are very dedicated,” he said. “Certainly, having done one or two things entrepreneurially, or in business, and then having that adventure gene, drives you to want to do it.”

Wimmer, who has lived in New York and Boston and is currently based in London, added he was aware of the controversies surrounding this week’s search. Some experts have criticized the apparently basic design of the submersible — which is controlled by a game console control pad — while others have derided as insensitive using the Titanic wreck, a mass grave site, as a tourist destination.

“Our intention has always been to go down to the Titanic, not to take any souvenirs, just photos,” and “honor that tragic event that happened more than 100 years ago,” he added.

While some people went on outdoor adventures for well-being or to “help make sense of their lives,” Manuel Sand, a professor who researches adventure tourism at Germany’s University of Applied Management, said that people climbed Mount Everest and visited the wreck of the Titanic, in part, so they could tell people they had done it. 

The Titan submersible being towed to a dive location during a previous expedition. 
OceanGate / AFP – Getty Images

“That plays a role, in my opinion,” he said, adding that there were much more unexplored places that people could visit. 

“I think it’s about going there and being able to say, ‘I’ve been to the top of the world,’ or’ I’ve been to see Titanic,’” Sand said. “And it’s a way of showing that you are probably rich enough and privileged enough to say you can go to these places.” 

He added that while submarine tourism might suffer in the short term, the incident was unlikely to put others off from similar adventures. 

“If you look at Mount Everest, there were so many deaths last year, but this year people have kept coming,” Sand said. “But I do hope it helps to draw some attention to the fact that these really expensive adventures are dangerous.”