1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Fact check: Was the Titan sub run with a game controller?

Kathrin Wesolowski
June 21, 2023

The search for the missing Titan submersible that was on its way to the Titanic wreckage is in full swing in the Atlantic. Allegedly, it was run with a game controller. Is that true?

Four people in a small tube formed shiny metal capsule
Enroute to the depths of the ocean Image: AP/picture alliance

On a deep sea adventure dive to the wreckage of the Titanic, a tourist submersible with five passengers on board went missing on Sunday. Canadian and US rescue teams have been searching for the small sub owned and operated by OceanGate Expeditions, a company that offers underwater tours of the Titanic shipwreck.

The search operation is a race against time to save the crew and passengers. News of the missing sub is going around the world, along with reports that it is allegedly operated with a video game controller. Numerous social media users as well as media passed on that info, and some were shocked. But is it true? DW's fact-checking team took a closer look.

Was the sub controlled with a game controller?

Claim: The missing submersible was controlled with a video game controller, users say on Twitter and TikTok, as well as numerous media.

Titan small submersible in the ocean
This small submersible has gone missing Image: ABACA/picture alliance

DW fact check: True.

The source repeatedly referred to is a video from the CBS News Sunday Morning show that was uploaded to YouTube on December 12, 2022 (archived here). According to the post's description, the video was originally broadcast on US television on November 27, 2022. It shows the broadcaster's reporter David Pogue exploring the sub operated by OceanGate Expeditions. 

The world-famous ocean liner Titanic rammed an iceberg in 1912 and sank. Almost 1,500 people died. According to media reports, the adventurous submersible trip to the wreck at a depth of almost four kilometers costs about $250,000 (€230,000) per person.

A video game controller — is CEO Stockton Rush just kidding?

In the CBS video, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush shows the reporter the inside of the submersible and laughs, saying "We run the whole thing with this game controller." By "the whole thing," he means the sub, even as he is showing a game controller. Is the CEO just joking?

Image of part of the shipwreck of the Titanic  ohn the ocean floor
The view the passengers pay a large sum to see firsthand Image: Oceangate Expeditions/PA Media/dpa/picture alliance

No, he is not joking, it's true, CBS Sunday Morning's David Pogue told DW in an email. The pilot operates the submersible with an Xbox game controller. Pogue wrote that the CEO, and designer of the sub, Stockton Rush, told him that "the important stuff, like the "pressure vessel” that contains the people, was designed in collaboration with NASA, and is incredibly high-tech and secure. Many of the other elements, however, are off the shelf," Pogue wrote. Several DW mails to OceanGate with questions concerning the submersible's controls as well as safety measures went unanswered.

Image agency search shows use of video game controllers

A July 2022 video broadcast by Canadian broadcaster CBC also shows Rush explaining that the submersible is run with a controller. In that case, it was clearly a Logitech brand controller, not the Xbox one.

Four men ansd one woman in a small capsule-like submersible, one holds a gaming device
One passanger on a previous voyage with the Titan holds a game controllerImage: American Photo Archive/Alamy/dpa/picture alliance

A picture search for OceanGate on the Picture-Alliance picture agency also shows images of the mini sub crew seated in the underwater vehicle holding controllers.

That does not necessarily mean the submersible is unsafe. Using video controllers to run subs is not uncommon. According to media reports, the US Navy has for years been using game controllers for various applications in its submarines. They are easy to operate, which makes them useful.

This article was originally written in German.