Sub passengers included CEO of expedition company, experienced explorers and Pakistani father and son from prominent family

By Steve Almasy and Ivana Kottasová, CNN

A billionaire father and son duo, a wealthy explorer, a diver with decades of experience and the founder of the company leading a submersible voyage to explore the Titanic are presumed dead after search teams discovered debris from the sub on the sea floor.

“The debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber,” Rear Adm. John Mauger, the US Coast Guard First District commander, told reporters Thursday.

The small vessel – roughly the size of a minivan – had been missing since Sunday when it lost contact with its mothership on the surface about 1 hour and 45 minutes into its descent to explore the Titanic wreckage.

The suspected implosion left two debris fields, but authorities didn’t say whether the bodies of the submariners were spotted or might be recovered.

These were the five people who were on board:

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush

Stockton Rush cultivated a reputation as a nature lover, adventurer and visionary.

He graduated from Princeton in 1984 and went to work for the McDonnell Douglas Corp. as a flight test engineer on the F-15 program. He obtained an MBA from University of California, Berkeley, in 1989, according to his company bio.

Rush founded OceanGate in 2009, with a stated mission of “increasing access to the deep ocean through innovation.”

In his eagerness to explore, Rush, 61, often appeared skeptical, if not dismissive, of regulations that might slow innovation.

The commercial sub industry is “obscenely safe,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in 2019, “because they have all these regulations. But it also hasn’t innovated or grown — because they have all these regulations.”

Rush said he believes deeply that the sea, rather than the sky, offers humanity the best shot at survival when the Earth’s surface becomes uninhabitable.

“The future of mankind is underwater. It’s not on Mars,” he told Mexican YouTuber Alan Estrada. “We will have a base underwater. … If we trash this planet, the best lifeboat for mankind is underwater.”

In his interview with Smithsonian in 2019, he relayed his almost-spiritual attraction to the deep sea. He called it “the deep disease.”

“I went to 75 feet. I saw cool stuff. I went 100 feet and saw more cool stuff. And I was like, ‘Wow, what’s it gonna be like at the end of this thing?’”

From left, Hamish Harding, Shahzada Dawood, Suleman Dawood, Paul-Henri Nargeolet and Stockton Rush

British businessman Hamish Harding

Harding, who had an impressive list of extreme expeditions under his belt, was based in the United Arab Emirates and was a trained jet pilot. He was the chairman of Action Aviation, an aircraft brokerage.

“To his team in Action Aviation, he was a guide, an inspiration, a support, and a Living Legend,” officials at the business said in a statement on behalf of his family. “He was one of a kind and we adored him. He was a passionate explorer – whatever the terrain – who lived his life for his family, his business and for the next adventure.”

Harding 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 also was 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.

“Hamish is larger than life. He lives exploration,” explorer and filmmaker Jannicke Mikkelsen told CNN on Tuesday. “He is an explorer to the core of his soul.”

Harding was 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.”

French diver Paul-Henri “PH” Nargeolet

French diver Paul-Henri “PH” Nargeolet had decades of experience exploring the Titanic. He served 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.

His family released a statement calling him one of the greatest deep-sea explorers in history.

“But what we will remember him most for is his big heart, his incredible sense of humor and how much he loved his family,” his wife and children said. “We will miss him today and every day for the rest of our lives.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, president of The Explorers Club, paid tribute to Nargeolet and Harding in a message to members.

“They were both drawn to explore, like so many of us, and did so in the name of meaningful science for the betterment of mankind,” he wrote. “They pushed themselves in their entrepreneurial pursuits as they did in exploration.”

Mathieu Johann, a friend of Nargeolet, told CNN that the submariner was a “hero.”

Johann, who spoke to CNN before the crew’s fate was announced, is a director at Harper Collins France and worked with Nargeolet on his book about the Titanic.

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 4,000 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.”

Fellow explorer Bill Blaesing met Nargeolet in 2010 when they traveled in a ship together over the Titanic. The Frenchman was “absolutely passionate” about expeditions, Blaesing told Spectrum News Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Blaesing said Nargeolet wasn’t arrogant like some other explorers. “He’s a true gentleman explorer,” he said.

Pakistani businessman and son, Shahzada and Suleman Dawood

Shahzada Dawood and his son, Suleman Dawood, were from a prominent Pakistani business family. Dawood Hercules Corp., their business, is among the largest corporations in the country, with a portfolio spanning energy, petrochemicals, fertilizers, information technology, and food and agriculture.

The business is headed by the family patriarch, Hussain Dawood. His sons, Shahzada and Abdul Samad, led various divisions, with Hussain’s daughter, Sabrina Dawood, in charge of the charitable arm of the business, according to the corporation’s website.

In a statement posted to the Twitter account of The Dawood Foundation, Hussain Dawood and his wife, Kulsum Dawood, said: “Please continue to keep the departed souls and our family in your prayers during this difficult period of mourning.”

“We are truly grateful to all those involved in the rescue operations. Their untiring efforts were a source of strength for us during this time,” the statement reads.

Bill Diamond, a friend of Shahzada Dawood, said he didn’t consider him a sports adventurist.

“He doesn’t go on, you know, death-defying missions or, you know, riding motorcycles over cliffs or any of these sorts of things – parachuting, scuba diving – to the best of my knowledge,” Diamond told CNN on Wednesday. “So I’ve never thought of him as a daredevil in any sense.”

Diamond described his friend as intelligent and perpetually curious, but he thinks Dawood was aware of the risks he was taking.

Shahzada Dawood also was trustee of the SETI Institute in California, a research organization, and a number of other foundations.

“Shahzada was passionately curious and an enthusiastic supporter of the SETI Institute and our mission, being directly involved in philanthropic programs in education, research and public outreach,” officials said. “He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, especially his fellow Trustees and the leadership of the SETI Institute.”

CNN’s Allison Morrow, Brian Todd, Ross Levitt, Francesca Hoffman, Hira Humayun, Sophia Saifi , Mostafa Salem and Sofia Cox contributed to this report.

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