Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a renowned French maritime expert and submarine pilot, became a leading authority on HMS Titanic through 37 successful voyages to her wreck. He was killed on his 38th attempt when the submersible he was traveling with four others imploded, the US Coast Guard announced Thursday. He was 77 years old.
Perhaps no one was more intimate than Mr. Nargeolet with the wreck of the ocean liner White Star which settled nearly 13,000 feet down in the North Atlantic Ocean after it sank in 1912, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew. Often referred to as « Mr. Titanic » due to his knowledge of the ship’s wreck and its surroundings, for which he was director of underwater research RMS Titanicthe company that holds the rights to salvage the legendary shipwreck, and the author of the book « In the depths of the Titanic », recently published by HarperCollins France.
His dozens of dives at the site included previous expeditions to the Titan, the ship that disappeared en route to the wreck on Sunday. On one such trip, in 2022, she contributed to the discovery of a « remarkably biodiverse abyssal ecosystem on a previously unknown basalt formation near the Titanic. » according to the company that owns the Titan, OceanGate Shipments.
James Cameron, the director of the famous film « Titanic » and a friend of Mr. Nargeolet, described him as a « legendary submarine pilot ».
“For him to have he died tragically that way it’s almost impossible for me to elaborate,” Mr. Cameron, who has made 33 dives of the famous wreck, said in an interview with ABC News on Thursday.
Few knew the wonders, as well as the risks, of such a dive more than Mr. Nargeolet. « If you’re 11 meters or 11 kilometers down, if something bad happens, the result is the same, » he said in a 2019 interview with The Irish examiner. « When you’re in very deep water, you’re dead before you realize anything is wrong, so it’s not a problem. »
Mr. Nargeolet was born on March 2, 1946 in Chamonix, France in the French Alps. He moved to Paris after living in Morocco for 13 years.
He felt the call of the sea at an early age as an amateur diver and in 1964 enlisted in the French Navy. hHe has been a submarine pilot, demining diver and deep sea diver.
After 22 years of service, he went to work for the French maritime research institute ifremer, where he supervised his offshore exploration assets during the first expeditions to the Titanic site. He made his first trip to the site in 1987.
During that 100-minute dive, the three crew members traveling on a submersible named Nautile chatted incessantly until they finally got a glimpse of the liner’s bow in the light of the searchlights. « For the next 10 minutes there was no sound in the submarine, » she said in a interview last year with HarperCollins France.
His survivors include his wife, Anne Sarraz-Bournet; two daughters, Chloe and Sidonies; a son, Jules; a stepson, John Nathaniel Pasquall; and a nephew. His wife Michele Marsh, an Emmy Award-winning journalist in New York, died in 2017.
As director of the RMS Titanic company, which has saved more than 5,500 artifacts from the wreck and, according to the company’s website, has exhibits seen by more than 35 million people, Mr. Nargeolet felt gratitude for his role in preserving what many consider a symbol of early 20th-century optimism regarding technological progress, as well as the scorn of some who consider it the equivalent of grave robbing.
« These shipments cost $50 million, » he told The Irish Examiner. « Of course, the company wants a comeback. »
He highlighted the benefits to science and history of conserving the remains of a huge steel and iron carcass that serves not only as a teeming habitat for rare species: « a oasis in a huge desert », as he stated in an interview with Le Monde last year, but also as one of the great artifacts of a lost era that microorganisms are slowly transforming into rust stalactites.
“One morning, a survivor reproached me for having recovered objects, her father having died in the catastrophe,” Mr. Nargeolet said in an interview last year with the French newspaper Le Monde, “and in the afternoon, another she congratulated me and asked me to bring back the pearl necklace her mother had left on the bedside table!”