With 37 dives on the wreck of the Titanic under his belt, renowned oceanographer Paul-Henri Nargiolet has earned the title of ‘super-hero’ in his native France.
The 77-year-old – known as ‘Mr Titanic’ – spent more than two decades in the French navy before leading several expeditions to the famous wreck in the Atlantic Ocean.
His ‘unparalleled’ knowledge of the Titanic and the photographs he captured during his world-famous dives there helped inspire his friend James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film.
But his latest expedition to the Titanic saw the famous sailor stranded with four others on the missing Titan submarine, with less than two hours running out of time to save the rescue crew before it ran out of air.
Nargiolet’s friends say he’s a ‘fantastic leader’ in crisis situations, and if anyone can keep their ship calm in the claustrophobic conditions aboard the Titan, it’s him.
Here, MailOnline looks at Nargiolet’s career and why friends believe he will be key to keeping the submarine calm.
With 37 dives on the wreck of the Titanic under his belt, renowned oceanographer Paul-Henri Nargiolet (pictured) has earned the title of ‘super-hero’ in his native France.
The 77-year-old – known as ‘Mr Titanic’ – spent more than two decades in the French Navy before leading several expeditions to the famous wreck in the Atlantic Ocean (pictured)
His ‘unparalleled’ knowledge of the Titanic and the photographs he captured during his world-famous dives on the wreck (pictured) helped inspire his friend James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film
Nargiolet’s love of diving and the sea began at the age of nine when he discovered his ‘first wreck’ following divers in Morocco.
And that passion led him to join the French Navy where he spent 22 years working in minesweeping before becoming the ‘leading authority’ on the Titanic.
The sailor, born in Chamonix, France, was the first person to retrieve an object – a silver plate – from the Titanic in 1987 and told Le Parisien in 2022 that he had read ‘200 to 300 books’ on the wreck.
Since that first dive in 1987, the revered sailor has led several expeditions to sunken cruisers off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and even overseen the recovery of thousands of artifacts — including a 20-ton piece of the Titanic.
‘He’s a world expert on the Titanic, its concept, shipwrecks, he’s dived to the four corners of the world – he’s a super-hero for us in France,’ says Matthew Johan, his editor at HarperCollins.
Nargiolet had been serving in the French Navy for 22 years when, in 1986, he was selected by the French Ocean Research Institute Ephraim to oversee underwater research on the Titanic. At that time the French naval commander was cleaning the Suez Canal.
‘I’ve never been more interested in Titanic,’ Nargiolet told Le Parisien. ‘Of course I’ve seen or read reports about it, but I never imagined it was going to take up such a big place in my life.’
In his position at Ephraim, Nargiolet took part in five deep dives, explored the deepest parts of the world’s five oceans and even broke the record for the deepest dive at 10,928 meters or 35,853 feet below sea level.
By 1987 he had led the first expedition, two years after the discovery of the Titanic.
He later said that when he saw the wreckage site for the first time, he and two of his crew members were stunned into silence for 10 minutes because ‘we were in the foreground, the most beautiful part where you see the anchor chain, the bronze winch. Still polished by water and silt … you can perfectly read they were made in Glasgow.’
‘That’s it, we’ve done it,’ cried Nargolet as they found the wreckage.
The 1997 film ‘Titanic’, directed by Nargiolet’s friend James Cameron, was inspired by the photographs taken by the French explorer, who was surprised by the quality of the reconstruction, Johan said.
Nargiolet became the director of underwater research for RMS Titanic, which owns the rights to the shipwreck and made more than 35 drives to the wreck.
During an interview in 2019, the then 73-year-old Nargiolet was asked if he was afraid of diving 12,500 feet below the surface of the water to reach the Titanic.
‘If you’re 11 meters or 11 kilometers down, if something bad happens, the result is the same,’ Mariner told the Irish Examiner at the time.
‘When you’re in deep water, you’re dead before you know anything’s happening, so it’s not a problem.’
Nargiolet (pictured before one of his expeditions to the Titanic) is widely regarded as a ‘leading authority’ on sunken cruisers, having led several expeditions to the wreck of the Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland.
Paul-Henri Nargiolet is pictured on the right after fishing in a boat with some friends
Commander Paul-Henri Nargiolet, left, smiles with England’s Milvina Dean, 84, at Black Falcon Pier in Boston on Sept. 1, 1996.
Nargiolet missing Oceangate submersible, Titan (file image)
He brought about 5,500 objects to the surface during the search for the wreckage of the Titanic, including passengers’ personal belongings such as binoculars and letters, Johan said.
One of these personal items was a watch, which Nargiolet gave to the victim’s daughter after she found him.
Nargiolet’s finds – including ship fittings including a cherub placed by the famous staircase – were auctioned by RMS Titanic in New York for $189 million (£148 million).
Johan said the only part of the ship that divers haven’t searched to date is the safe room, where gold and jewels were kept.
‘At first we were afraid to recover the artefacts owned by the passengers but then we realized that we could learn a lot about the passengers,’ Nargiolet said.
‘We’re resurrecting this family history, and for me that’s a good thing.’
In 2010, before Titanic’s sixth voyage, Nargiolet was tasked with finding the missing Air France A300, which disappeared off the coast of Brazil in June 2009 but failed.
But Titanic has been the centerpiece of his career and, speaking about why he is still fascinated by the wreck, he said last year: ‘The word Titanic is magic in my opinion because it always creates a reaction.
‘There are those who are interested in boat building, because it was a new type of boat. There are those interested by the billionaires who were on board because they were the stars of the time, some are interested in immigrants looking for a new life in North America… everyone can find an interest in the Titanic.
‘Once you put your head in the Titanic, it’s hard to get out.’
Johan convinced Nargiolet to write his book ‘Inside the Titanic’ because he said his children were super-vans. He said the underwater explorer needed to be persuaded to write the book because he wanted to spend all his time diving.
‘He wakes up in the morning and he wants to go to sea,’ said Johan.
He is director of underwater research for RMS Titanic, Inc. and has appeared in numerous films and documentaries on the ship.
After specializing in deep submersibles, he led the Titanic’s first recovery mission in 1987.
Nargiolet’s French wife Anne lives in Connecticut and his grown children live in Cork, Ireland.
Nargiolet was previously married to American journalist Michelle Marsh, who died in 2017. They met after Marsh contacted a searcher for the contact of a French survivor of the Titanic.
RMS Titanic’s president, Jessica Sanders, said in a statement on Wednesday that Nargiolet’s experience was unparalleled and ‘no one was better placed to navigate equipment failures than her’.
Those who know Nargiolet said his skills and experience meant he would keep everyone aboard the Titan ‘in a stable frame of mind’ that they were now ‘at the mercy’ of the sea.
Joe McInnis, a renowned diver and doctor, told CNN of Nargiolet: ‘He’s been in all kinds of problematic situations and he’s solved them. That’s the guy you want by your side in a situation like this.’
Dick Barton, who has made 22 dives on the wreck to 12,500ft, said Nargiolet was ‘reliable’ and ‘100 per cent’ the man he would want with him if he were stranded on a sub.
Speaking to MailOnline on Wednesday, Mr Barton, a visiting lecturer at the University of Sunderland, said Mr Nargiolet would be a huge asset to searchers: ‘There is no comparison.
‘H.P [as he is known] An underwater science consultant, an expedition leader, very reliable, he’s going to be the guy who keeps everyone in a stable frame of mind.
‘It is very important to maintain normality. Everyone gets claustrophobia, panic attacks, but you have to limit it because you can’t go anywhere.’
He continued: ‘You have been in the danger zone since the craft was abandoned by the mothercraft. From then on you depend on the ship’s technology, integrity and strength.’
His colleagues and fellow divers praised Nargiolet for being a ‘great professional’.
‘Paul-Henri is a great professional, both in diving and in underwater robots,’ Bertrand Seeboz, a friend of his, told Le Parisien. ‘During every dive, he is fully aware of the risks he takes.
‘He was a pure scientist, a fan of machinery and technology, he didn’t care about money,’ said another friend.
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