Five passengers died on board the Titan submersible in June 2023 when it imploded during a dive to the Titanic wreck off the US coast of Newfoundland. In the aftermath, a video has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media claiming to show the victims’ final moments before the tragedy. However, the claims are false: the people seen in the clip do not match the crew involved in last month’s fatal accident. AFP Fact Check traced the footage to an investor in the OceanGate company, which founded the Titan, who confirmed that he filmed the clips during an expedition in August 2021.
The video shows clear blue waters outside the bull’s-eye window of a submersible before panning across five crew members, including a woman. The camera then swings back to the ocean, revealing a sizeable rusted vessel.
“Apparently, they did arrive at the titanic #OpenGate”, says the caption below a Facebook reel that has been shared thousands of times since it was published on a South African page on June 25, 2023.
Text superimposed on the clip reads: “Submarine video watch it before they delete it (sic)”.
A screenshot of the false reel on Facebook
A logo in the footage showed the clip was originally published on TikTok, where it has garnered more than 2.8 million likes and 130,000 shares since June 24, 2023.
Five passengers had joined the 3,800-metre deep sea excursion to visit the wreckage of the Titanic, the famous ship that sank in 1912.
The participants, who included OceanGate Expeditions CEO Stockton Rush, were confirmed dead on June 23, 2023, after the submersible imploded due to immense sea pressure. The US Coast Guard and the Canadian government have launched an investigation into the incident (archived here and here).
However, the various widely-shared clips are unrelated to the fatal expedition.
Investor recounts 2021 trip
A reverse image search of the keyframes from the video claiming to show Titan’s final moments revealed that one of the men seen in the footage is Aaron Newman.
Comparison of screenshots of a tweet, left, and an interview with Aaron Newman by CBS News, created on June 29, 2023
The keyframe search led to a number of US interviews with Newman, an OceanGate investor, who was not part of the recent disaster but had joined a previous trip on the sub.
The TV report featured the same footage shared in the misleading posts, but with the caption “Courtesy Aaron Newman, 2021”.
AFP Fact Check searched Newman’s Facebook profile and found the original videos of his expedition. We were able to determine that the viral video was composed of three clips shared by him both recently and in 2021.
Newman confirmed to AFP Fact Check via Facebook Messenger on June 29, 2023, that the videos were all his, “from August 2021”, and not of the recent Titan tragedy.
Comparison of screenshots from a false Facebook post, left, and a Facebook video posted by Aaron Newman, created on July 4, 2023
Comparison of screenshots from a false Instagram post, left, and a Facebook video posted by Aaron Newman, created on July 4, 2023
Comparison of screenshots from a false Facebook post and a Facebook video posted by Aaron Newman, created on July 4, 2023
Some of the false posts also included an effect mimicking an explosion and a blacked-out screen at the end – that wasn’t part of the original videos – implying that was the moment that the Titan imploded.
On June 26, 2023, Newman responded (archived) to the viral TikTok video in a Facebook post: “Obviously I’m horrible at social media. Someone grabbed my videos and put on TikTok and got 1.5m likes and 15k comments. I put them out and got 100 likes.”
In the 2021 footage shared in the false posts, Newman can be seen alongside a female passenger on the Titan. However, the five participants in the June 2023 voyage were all men.
A screenshot from the viral video that shows a woman, taken on July 4, 2023