Fact Check

Was the Titan Sub's Text Message 'Transcript' or 'Log' Released?

Social media users appeared to be taking the viral "log" at face value, despite there being no evidence of its authenticity.

Published Jul 6, 2023

Updated Jul 12, 2023
An undated photo shows the Titan submersible from OceanGate Expeditions beginning to descend. (Photo by OceanGate / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) (OceanGate / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
An undated photo shows the Titan submersible from OceanGate Expeditions beginning to descend. (Photo by OceanGate / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Claim:
A transcript shared online documents the final text message communications from the Titan submersible.

In early July 2023, TikTok and YouTube users published videos promoting what they referred to as a "transcript" or "log" of the final text message communications from OceanGate Expeditions' Titan submersible.

On the morning of June 18, the Titan (which technically was a submersible and not a submarinelost communication with the Canadian research icebreaker Polar Prince shortly after beginning its descent to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. Five passengers, including OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, were on board when the sub apparently imploded on the same morning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

When this article was first published (archived), our findings were inconclusive. Initially, we were not able to determine if the transcript was real or fake. As such, we rated the claim as "Unproven." However, on July 12, we updated the rating to "False," thanks to new insight sent to us from "CBS This Morning" correspondent David Pogue, who had spent time documenting the OceanGate crew and the Titan in July 2022. Pogue's detailed message to us appears near the end of this story and contains key insight regarding this matter.

In what follows, we'll detail everything we know about this subject, including a picture of the Titan's laminated short codes, video of what text message communications looked like on the screen inside the Titan, Pogue's credentialed thoughts on the rumor, as well as the discredited transcript itself. We'll also lay out how thoughts from film director James Cameron aligned with what appeared in the messages that were being shared online.

Note: On July 6, we reached out to OceanGate Expeditions to ask about this rumor. Earlier on the same day, the company had announced on its website that it had "suspended all exploration and commercial operations." We did not receive a response.

Titan's Text Message Technology

First off, yes, the Titan sub had the ability to send and receive what OceanGate referred to as text messages, as CNN, Scientific American, and ABC News reported.

The following question and answer was pulled from the company's website:

Can the submersible communicate with the crew on the surface?

Yes. Titan communicates with the topside comms and tracking team via text messages which are exchanged via a USBL (ultra-short baseline) acoustic system. The sub is required to communicate with topside every fifteen minutes or more frequently if needed.  Tracking of the sub's position (lat/long and depth) is achieved through the same system but is controlled by the computer and updates the sub's position every few seconds.

According to the reporting from Scientific American, the communications technology "allow[ed] for underwater acoustic positioning, as well as for short text messages to be sent back and forth to the surface vessel – but the amount of data that can be shared is limited and usually includes basic telemetry and status information."

That "limited" data that "usually includes basic telemetry and status information" appeared to correspond with a picture that was pointed out to us by a reader that had originally appeared in an article from New York Magazine.

The photograph showed a laminated sheet of paper with short codes of no more than three characters each. The picture was captured inside the Titan by CBS News correspondent David Pogue during his visit in July 2022.

At the same time, lengthier messages were also sent back and forth between the Polar Prince and the Titan, as the verified YouTube channel jeffostroff pointed out in a video that was posted on July 8. That video referenced a brief clip from an October 2022 episode of the BBC News documentary series, "The Travel Show," that showed a shot of the longer text messages on the screen inside the Titan during a previous expedition.

A Titan text message transcript was part of a rumor that circulated online after the submersible tragedy.A computer screen inside the Titan sub shows text messages that were longer than three characters. (Courtesy: "The Travel Show" via BBC News in 2022)

Additionally, Pogue also confirmed to us that messages containing several words each were sent back and forth, but that the short codes of no longer than three characters each were used when possible. His thoughts appear farther down in this article.

TikTok and YouTube Videos

The TikTok and YouTube users who shared the supposed transcript appeared to do so with disclaimers that they weren't sure of its authenticity.

Between late June and early July, a TikTok user posted a video of the messages and prefaced the clip by saying they were "unconfirmed," the creator or creators behind the GS Academy Pakistan YouTube channel published the video and cited a link to a source that did not exist, and another TikTok user posted a video of the messages with no disclaimer.

YouTuber jeffostroff also talked about the transcript in a thoughtful video, beginning with a disclaimer that they could not confirm the transcript's authenticity.

James Cameron: 'They Probably Had Warning'

Before we get to the transcript and CBS News correspondent David Pogue's message to us, we'll first set up how film director James Cameron may have inspired an unknown person to create the transcript.

Cameron is the Oscar-winning director of 1997's "Titanic." He also has quite the record of making deep-sea submersible dives, including to depths far deeper than Titanic. (In fact, he was exploring the Titanic on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, getting a glimpse at one historical tragedy while another and perhaps much more significant event was occurring on the surface.)

Under one of the TikTok videos that promoted the transcript, a user commented, "So the passengers and Rush heard the hull failing with their own ears. James Cameron was correct. Chilling."

This user, who appeared to take the transcript at face value, was referring to an interview given by Cameron to ABC News, in which he described some elements of a story that also later appeared in the supposed text messages. From what we could gather, Cameron had not since come out to give his thoughts on the transcript that's being shared online.

"This OceanGate sub had sensors on the inside of the hull to give them a warning when it was starting to crack," Cameron said to ABC News on June 22. "And I think if that's your idea of safety, then you're doing it wrong. You don't... and they probably had warning that their hull was starting to delaminate and it was starting to crack. Because, as Bob [Ballard] pointed out, we understand from inside the community, that they had dropped their ascent weights and they were coming up, trying to manage an emergency."

This part of the interview begins at the 7:52 mark below:

The Transcript

As for the purported transcript itself, the series of messages aligned with what OceanGate had indicated on its website about how communications were required every fifteen minutes. The messages also appeared to correspond with Cameron's own thoughts on what may have been happening in the sub's final moments. In other words, if someone wanted to create a fictional transcript based upon this data, kind of like someone might write dramatic lines for a movie, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for someone to do so.

Here's the transcript that was being shared online:

Note: "RTM" apparently stands for Titan's real-time monitoring system.

[07:52:34] [POLAR PRINCE] clear for descent. Enjoy the ride

[07:54:07] [TITAN] Descending now

[07:58:16] [TITAN] Launch sequence complete, rdy?

[0800:39] [POLAR PRINCE] all clear

[08:01:11] [TITAN] Proceeding.

[08:03:09] [POLAR PRINCE] Enjoy the dive gentlemen.

[08:19:53] [POLAR PRINCE] you're 15 minutes into the dive, current depth. Systems check, please.

[08:21:28] [TITAN] Systems check complete, all in order. All lights are green. We are 756, proceeding.

[08:22:41] [POLAR PRINCE] Thank you. Proceed.

[08:34:02] [POLAR PRINCE] 30 minutes in, update please.

[08:34:57] [TITAN] All systems are functioning normally. We're in good shape. Continuing our descent as planned.

[08:36:05] [POLAR PRINCE] Superb, proceed.

[08:49:10] [POLAR PRINCE] Over 45 minute mark. Current depth? Confirm status.

[08:51:30] [TITAN] Depth at 1934. All systems stable and descent continuing as planned. Happy crew.

[08:52:28] [POLAR PRINCE] Excellent!

[09:01:46] [POLAR PRINCE] You're at the hour mark.

[09:02:13] [TITAN] All is smooth sailing here.

[09:15:21] [POLAR PRINCE] You are at 75 minutes, depth? Status? Do you need to adjust velocity?

[09:17:50] [TITAN] All under control. At 2960. No adjustments needed. We're enjoying the ride.

[09:19:03] [POLAR PRINCE] Understood

[09:28:16] [TITAN] we're noting an alarm from the rtm

[09:28:35] [TITAN] reducing velocity descent depth 3433

[09:28:47] [POLAR PRINCE] Understood. Do you need to ascend?

[09:30:55] [TITAN] no change with thrust the rate of descent is increasing. At 35. Going to release the ballast now. Standby.

[09:30:55] [POLAR PRINCE] Yes, agree. Release the ballast.

[09:32:12] [TITAN] No improvement. Preparing to jettison the frame.

[09:33:00] [POLAR PRINCE] Affirmative. Update when able. RTM indicator status?

[09:35:48] [TITAN] frame jettisoned multiple attempts needed. But starting the ascent now.

[09:36:33] [POLAR PRINCE] Multiple attempts? What is your status? RTM indicators? Depth?

[09:37:38] [POLAR PRINCE] Update please when able.

*[09:38:09] [TITAN] crackling sound at aft

[09:38:44] [POLAR PRINCE] Can you identify source? RTM indicators status?

[09:40:12] [TITAN] neg

[09:40:40] [POLAR PRINCE] RTM status?

[09:42:12] [TITAN] trying to run diagnostics. Ascending now. But very slow. Sounds have subsided. Global RTM alert active all red.

[09:42:57] [POLAR PRINCE] Understood. Any codes? Depth? Ascent rate?

[09:43:16] [POLAR PRINCE] Updates when able please.

[09:42:42] [TITAN] slow ascent in progress. quarter predicted. Unclear why rate is small. No indicator. At 3476. Aiming for the surface.

[09:44:03] [POLAR PRINCE] We are talking it over with the engineer, standby.

[09:45:11] [POLAR PRINCE Depth and status please. What's the wattage on upwards thrust?

[09:46:37] [TITAN] reading red on the A power bus. I switched to B. at 3457m more sounds aft.

[09:47:19] [POLAR PRINCE] Understood, continue ascent. Talking to Carlos about power bus situation right now. Standby.

[09:48:49] [POLAR PRINCE] We are activating recovery procedures. Carlos is requesting wattage output from bus B. Status update please. Velocity of ascent?

[09:50:09] [POLAR PRINCE] We're not receiving you. Update please.

[09:51:16] [POLAR PRINCE] Status and depth report.

[09:53:08] [POLAR PRINCE] We need you to respond with status and depth. Carlos is requesting wattage update on thrusters.

[09:55:01] [POLAR PRINCE] We are unable to read you. We are moving to recovery coordinates. Report if you read.

[09:57:22] [POLAR PRINCE] Please respond if you're able.

*Note: The line, "[09:38:09] [TITAN] crackling sound at aft," did not appear in the text on Pastebin.com, but was displayed in some of the TikTok and YouTube videos. Also, some versions of the transcript read as "SUB" and "TOP" instead of "TITAN" and "POLAR PRINCE."

David Pogue's Thoughts

Days after our article was published, on the morning of July 12, CBS News correspondent David Pogue provided us with a generous amount of valuable, credentialed insight into OceanGate's communications. Again, Pogue spent time with the crew and the Titan in July 2022, documenting just about everything about the company's expeditions to the wreckage of Titanic for a thorough report to be aired on "CBS Sunday Morning."

In a Twitter DM, Pogue told us that he believed, "The transcript is clearly a fake."

First, he said that it was true that Titan could send full sentences, adding that OceanGate used technology from Sonardyne. Here's what he told us:

For example, during the 7/14/22 "sub got lost on the bottom" dive I described in my reports, our CBS GoPros in the sub recorded Stockton reading these texts from the support ship:

——

RUSH: I said, "Do you know where we are? 100 meters to the bow, then 470 to the bow. If you are lost, so are we!"

——

RUSH: "400 meters due east." OK.

RORY: 400 meters due east? That's gonna take us away!

——

RORY: Have we just been doing circles?

RUSH: Yeah. "Bottom time up. What do you want to do?"

In our correspondence with Pogue, he said that, based on his experience with the crew, the transcript being shared online "exhibits a sort of wordy, cheery banter that simply didn't exist on the Titan dives":

Efficiency and brevity were a priority. There was absolutely no chitchat (such as "Enjoy the dive, gentlemen"). Often, the actual exchanges even omitted the verb, newspaper headline-style ("Bottom time up"), to save time and typing.

If everything were indeed fine, the pilot would simply text "AN" (the code for "All systems nominal"). Nobody would bother to type out "Systems check complete, all in order. All lights are green." Or this absurd example: "All systems are functioning normally. We're in good shape. Continuing our descent as planned." That's complete baloney.  

Imagine that you're texting a friend. Would you ever actually type out "Affirmative"?! Not unless you were a hoaxer trying to sound rockety. No, you'd just type "OK."

Pogue also provided his thoughts on this exchange from the transcript:

[09:30:55] [TITAN] no change with thrust the rate of descent is increasing. At 35. Going to release the ballast now. Standby.

[09:30:55] [POLAR PRINCE] Yes, agree. Release the ballast.

[09:32:12] [TITAN] No improvement. Preparing to jettison the frame.

Pogue said of these three messages, "As I've reported, Titan had seven different ways to return to the surface: hydraulically released construction pipes, a set of rolling construction pipes (released by rocking the sub), sandbags (mechanically released), an air bladder, the thrusters, the timed self-releasing sandbags (connected to the sub with seawater-dissolving links), and, FINALLY, the frame (legs) of the submersible."

"The Titan's pilot would not just say 'Going to release the ballast now'; he would specify which kind," Pogue added. "And above all, he would never not BEGIN with the expensive, custom-built frame! He would BEGIN with the pipes, sandbags, thrusters, or air bladder."

In Pogue's message to us, he cited his interview with OceanGate's expedition manager and mission director Kyle Bingham. Bingham had said to Pogue, "Also, as the LAST thing, these legs, these uprights, the carbon fiber cross members, and the hull landing gear, are held on with two big pins, and another hydraulic system that we can pump and release the hull legs, the landing gear and all that. And come back up."

Additional Notes

In the original version of this story, we included information from a Facebook post published by Parks Stephenson, a Titanic explorer who, according to Insider.com and The Advocate, had worked in the past with James Cameron on Titanic-related projects, including multiple submersible dives to the wreckage.

Stephenson wrote that he believed the transcript to be "unverified," the same initial determination we also arrived at. He also said he believed it to be "most likely nothing more than a cruel and cynical fantasy." After the initial publishing of this fact check, Stephenson removed his first post in order to write a fuller explanation of his thoughts, saying that he had noticed our inclusion of his post in an earlier version of our article, and that, "To be absolutely clear, no one I know at the time of this writing is 100% certain that the transcript is either real or fake."

Note: After reviewing Stephenson's newer post, we contacted him regarding the matter to let him know we would update our story.

Sources

"[07:52:34] [POLAR PRINCE] Clear for Descent. Enjoy the Ride." Pastebin.com, 29 June 2023, https://pastebin.com/8g5mzTh0.

ABC News. "'Titanic' Filmmaker James Cameron Weighs in on the 'Catastrophic' Titan Sub Implosion." YouTube, 22 June 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rThZLhNF_xg.

b-monster666. "Snooes Article Regarding the Supposed Transcripts." r/OceanGateTitan on Reddit.com, 10 July 2023, www.reddit.com/r/OceanGateTitan/comments/14vi5ck/snooes_article_regarding_the_supposed_transcripts/jrdz2o2/.

Brewis, Harriet. "'Transcript of Titan Sub's Final Communication' Leaked Online | Indy100." Indy100.com, 6 July 2023, https://www.indy100.com/news/titan-sub-final-transcript-tiktok-2662237857.

Burke, Minyvonne, and Austin Mullen. "OceanGate Suspends All Exploration and Commercial Operations after Titan Implosion." NBC News, 6 July 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/oceangate-suspends-exploration-commercial-operations-titan-implosion-rcna92912.

Charalambous, Peter. "PlayStation Controller and Acoustic Messaging: How the Missing Titanic Tourist Sub Works." ABC News, 21 June 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/playstation-controller-acoustic-messaging-how-missing-titanic-tourist-sub-works/story?id=100256552.

Cohen, Danielle. "'Presumed Human Remains' Have Been Recovered From the Titan Sub Wreck." The Cut, 29 June 2023, https://www.thecut.com/article/missing-titanic-submersible-what-we-know.html.

Liles, Jordan. "Was James Cameron Exploring the Titanic Wreckage on 9/11?" Snopes, 22 June 2023, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/james-cameron-titanic-911/.

Loh, Matthew. "OceanGate Boasted on Instagram in 2020 That Its Titanic Submersible Would Detect Hull Defects with 'Incredible Accuracy' and 'Well Before the Safety of the Crew Is Threatened.'" Insider, 3 July 2023, https://www.insider.com/oceangate-2020-boasted-incredible-accuracy-detecting-titanic-sub-hull-flaws-2023-7.

Longjumping_Youth679. "Titan Log of Final Dive Probable Fake, Says Parks Stevenson." Reddit, 6 July 2023, https://www.reddit.com/r/titanic/comments/14ptgyb/comment/jqwi7v4/?utm_source=reddit&utm_medium=web2x&context=3.

OceanGate Expeditions. https://oceangateexpeditions.com/.

Ramer, Holly, et al. "Did Initial Delays in Communication Hamper Tourist Sub Search?" The Associated Press, 22 June 2023, https://apnews.com/article/missing-titanic-submersible-851bcfb36dfb4d58aa43daeda481905d.

Than, Ker. "James Cameron Now at Ocean's Deepest Point." National Geographic News, 27 Mar. 2012, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/120325-james-cameron-mariana-trench-challenger-deep-deepest-science-sub.

Torres, Libby. "A Titanic Expert Who Worked with James Cameron Weighed in on the Missing Submersible." Insider, 20 June 2023, https://www.insider.com/missing-titanic-sub-updates-titanic-expert-parks-stephenson-2023-6.

Tucker, Emma. "What It Was like inside the Lost Titanic-Touring Submersible." CNN, 22 June 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/21/us/inside-missing-titan-submersible-titanic-tour/index.html.

Wanshel, Elyse. "James Cameron Says Titan Passengers Likely Knew Sub Was In Trouble Right Before Implosion." HuffPost, 23 June 2023, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/james-cameron-titan-sub-implosion_n_649601c3e4b0aec6b800cf11.

Whittle, Patrick, and Jennifer McDermott. "What Caused the Titan to Implode? Right Now, It's Not Even Clear Who Will Lead the Investigation." The Associated Press, 23 June 2023, https://apnews.com/article/missing-titanic-submersible-updates-93a59c3c1d48aee2feef46caca418fd1.

Williams, Stefan B. "Missing Titanic Sub: What Could Have Gone Wrong?" Scientific American via The Conversation, 20 June 2023, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/missing-titanic-sub-what-could-have-gone-wrong/.

Updates

July 7, 2023: This report was updated to include a line about a "crackling sound" that appeared in some, but not all, versions of the transcript.

July 10, 2023: This report was updated to include a key picture of the Titan’s short codes for text messages captured by “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent David Pogue in July 2022, a different look at the text message communications interface inside the Titan from the BBC News documentary series “The Travel Show” in October 2022, and a new post from Titanic explorer Parks Stephenson.

July 12, 2023: This report's rating was updated from "Unproven" to "False" following our receipt of new insight from CBS News correspondent David Pogue.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.