Who Was Paul-Henri Nargeolet, The French Titanic Expert Aboard The Missing Sub?

Titan, a commercial submersible owned by the private ocean exploration company OceanGate, lost contact with the surface less than two hours after it was launched to see the wreck of the Titanic on June 18, 2023. Among the five people on board was world-renowned French Titanic authority, Paul-Henri Nargeolet. Nargeolet (pictured) was 77 years old when the Titan went missing. Prior to embarking on the Titan expedition, Nargeolet, an experienced underwater explorer, reportedly made chilling comments about the safety of the craft, expressing concern about what the experimental vessel was made from and warning that one aspect of its construction could amount to a fatal flaw.

Prior to the Titan's disappearance, Nargeolet performed 37 successful submersible dives to the well-known site and was involved in the recovery of some of Titanic's rarest artifacts, according to Nargeolet's profile posted on E/M Group, where he was director of underwater research. The French naval veteran and diver also fulfilled that role for RMS Titanic, Inc., an American company with rights to the Titanic wreckage.

As well as recovering some 5,500 artifacts from the Titanic's North Atlantic resting place — including a 20-ton section of the ship's hull, which is now housed in Las Vegas — Nargeolet wrote 2022's "In the Depths of the Titanic," a memoir about his experience exploring the famous shipwreck. Titanic aside, in 2011, Nargeolet had a hand in locating Air France Flight 447, which went down in the Atlantic in 2009 between Brazil and Paris, some 13,000 feet below the surface.

He was reportedly concerned about the Titan's porthole

After traveling once in the Titan, Paul-Henri Nargeolet reportedly told a colleague he lacked confidence in the vessel's composite materials to withstand the extreme pressures at such depth and felt the larger-than-average porthole might be a weak spot on the small craft. According to another colleague, Michel L'Hour (via New York Magazine), "He was a little dubious about this new technology but, at the same time, intrigued by the idea of piloting something new, a bit like being a test pilot."

Still, according to Cherbourg's La Cite de la Mer nautical museum director Bernard Cauvin (via Reuters) "[Nargeolet] wouldn't have gone somewhere if he was unsure." As of this report, a remotely operated vehicle discovered a debris field in the Titan search area, where the external body of the submersible was found, according to CNN. By that time, the emergency air supply on the vessel would have run out.

Shortly after it was announced a piece of the Titan was found, OceanGate said in a statement they believed the lives of all aboard were sadly lost. "These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world's oceans. Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew," the statement read (via CNN).

Nargeolet spoke of the dangers of his trade on several occasions

For all his expertise in the Titanic disaster — which famously went down in the North Atlantic in 1912, killing roughly 1,500 passengers and crew — Paul-Henri Nargeolet has come to be known as "Mr. Titanic" and is reportedly friends with James Cameron, who wrote and directed the 1997 Hollywood blockbuster film "Titanic" based on the catastrophe. According to Nargeolet's editor, Mathieu Johann (via Reuters), "He is the world specialist on the Titanic, its conception, the shipwreck, he has dived in four corners of the world — he is a super-hero for us in France." Referring to Nargeolet, Johann added, "He wakes up in the morning and he wants to go to the sea."

In a 2019 interview with the Irish Examiner, Nargeolet mentioned the inherent dangers of his profession. When you're as deep underwater as the Titanic or an estimated 13,000 feet below the surface, he said, "If something bad happens, the result is the same. When you're in very deep water, you're dead before you realize that something is happening, so it's just not a problem." 

The next year, Nargeolet appeared on France Bleu radio and again mentioned his risky lifestyle. "I am not afraid to die, I think it will happen one day," he said (via the New York Post). When the Titan went missing, Nargeolet lived in Connecticut with his wife Anne. Nargeolet was also on board the Nautile in 1987, the first manned submersible to reach the infamous wreckage, according to New York Magazine.