A billionaire father and son duo, a wealthy explorer and a diver with decades of experience exploring the Titanic are among the five people on board the submersible that has disappeared en route to view the world’s most famous shipwreck.
Authorities said the small vessel – roughly the size of a minivan – was carrying five people when its mothership lost contact with it on Sunday morning, about 1 hour and 45 minutes into its descent to explore the Titanic wreckage.
While the names of those on board have not been released by the authorities, British businessman Hamish Harding, Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood and his son Sulaiman Dawood, and French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet have been confirmed to be on board the craft.
The fifth person on board is Stockton Rush, the CEO and founder of the company leading the voyage, Ocean Gate, according to a source with knowledge of the mission plan. Ocean Gate did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Harding, who has an impressive list of extreme expeditions under his belt, is based in the United Arab Emirates and is a trained jet pilot. He is the chairman of Action Aviation, an aircraft brokerage. The company said in statement posted on social media that Harding was on board the submersible.
He made headlines in 2019 for being part of a flight crew that broke the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe via both poles.
In 2020, Harding became one of the first people to dive to Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean, widely believed to be the deepest point in the world’s oceans. Last year, he paid an undisclosed sum of money for one of the seats on Blue Origin’s space flight.
He has also been part of two record-breaking trips to the South Pole: in 2016, he accompanied the astronaut Buzz Aldrin when he became the oldest person to reach the South Pole. In 2020, he went there with his son Giles, who, at 12 years old, became the youngest person to get to the spot.
Harding is also a founding member of the board of trustees of The Explorers Club, a New York-based group that has been involved in many of the world’s most prestigious discoveries.
The day before the vessel went missing, Harding wrote on social media that he was “proud to finally announce that I joined OceanGate Expeditions for their RMS TITANIC Mission as a mission specialist on the sub going down to the Titanic.”
Shahzada Dawood and his son, Sulaiman Dawood, have also been confirmed to be among the five people aboard the submersible.
A statement from their family said the duo had embarked on the “journey to visit the remnants of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean.”
“As of now, contact has been lost with their submersible craft and there is limited information available,” the statement added.
The Dawoods are a prominent Pakistani business family. Dawood Hercules Corporation, their business, is among the largest corporations in the country, with a portfolio spanning energy, petrochemicals, fertilizers, IT and food and agriculture.
The business is headed by the family patriarch Hussain Dawood, with his sons Shahzada and Abdul Samad leading various divisions and his daughter Sabrina Dawood in charge of the charitable arm of the business, according to the Dawood Hercules Corporation’s website.
Shahzada Dawood is also trustee of the SETI Institiute in California, a research organization, and a number of other foundations.
Harding said in a social media post on Saturday that diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, was scheduled to be on the dive with him.
“The team on the sub has a couple of legendary explorers, some of which have done over 30 dives to the RMS Titanic since the 1980s including PH Nargeolet,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Nargeolet’s family confirmed to CNN affiliate BFMTV that he was aboard the vessel.
The diver has decades of experience exploring the Titanic. He serves as the director of underwater research at RMS Titanic Inc., the company that has exclusive rights to salvage artifacts from the ship.
According to his biography on the company’s website, Nargeolet completed 35 dives to the Titanic wreck and supervised the recovery of 5,000 artifacts. He spent 22 years in the French Navy, where he rose to the rank of a commander, the website says.
David Gallo, senior adviser for strategic initiatives at RMS Titanic Inc. and a colleague of Nargeolet, told CNN the French diver is “the best” at deep-sea searching. He said that “everything that can be done, is being done.”
“Something we always think about as explorers and scientists … we’ve always known something like this could happen and now it’s happened. But we’re still pretty much in shock, the community is. I hope it has a good ending,” he said.
Mathieu Johann, a friend of Nargeolet, told CNN that the missing submariner is a “hero” and said, “I hope that, right to the end, like in the movies, he’ll reappear very quickly to reassure us all.”
Mathieu Johann is a Director at Harper Collins France and worked with Nargeolet on his book about the Titanic.
“What we’re going through right now is this interminable wait,” Johann said, telling CNN that he is in contact with Nargeolet’s family.
Johann described Nargeolet as someone who “risked his life all his life,” adding, “He knows that the slightest expedition represents a danger, but like all those people who are passionate about water and the sea, for them, it’s their daily life… He’s a great professional. And he knows exactly what he’s doing. And he was always very reassuring about his expedition.”
When asked why Nargeolet worked on the Titanic, Johann said the submariner “became attached to its history.”
“There were still mysteries to be unraveled. I know that his big thing is trying to find out what’s in the Titanic’s safe. I hope with all my heart that one day he’ll manage to penetrate that vault, which remains full of mystery 4000 meters under the sea. It was still very enigmatic for him, and when I talk to Paul-Henri, I can still see his childlike eyes shining, because this legendary liner has also become his story.”
A spokesperson for the French Foreign Office said the ministry was not in a position to confirm Nargeolet’s disappearance.
Rush, the CEO and founder of Ocean Gate, is an experienced pilot and diver. According to the company’s social media posts, he has previously piloted “Titan,” the vessel that has gone missing.