The renewed interest this week in the wreckage of the doomed ocean liner has caused people to learn about one of his most notable expeditions: James was underwater on a Titanic voyage during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and didn’t learn about what happened until he returned from his voyage.
Upon his return, the late actor Bill Paxton informed him about the attack.
This is all documented in James’ 2003 documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, which followed the director's 2001 expedition. Bill, who was a close friend to James, narrated the film and appeared in it too, as he was involved in the expedition.
In the documentary, a member of the team accompanying James on the underwater voyage noted the time before returning to the ocean's surface. “And the time is 6:16, Sept. 11, 2001. See you later," they said.
The film then cuts to the team leaving the sub, where James asks about this “thing” that’s occurring. This prompts Bill to say, “The worst terrorist attack in history, Jim" before detailing the attack.
“We all were very wrapped up in what we were doing and we all thought it was desperately important, and then this horrible event happened and slammed us into this perspective,” James says in a voiceover as footage of Bill talking to members of the expedition team played.
The film then briefly discusses if the expedition remained important in light of the attacks before continuing to chronicle the team's journey.
"Everyone decided to continue the expedition. I think that after we had gotten over the initial shock, Titanic did seem to become important again. Not so much for itself but as a symbol of what can happen when warnings go unheeded and how I think we all hope to face death when it comes," Bill said in a voiceover.