Submerged car photo from Northern Ireland, not Baltimore

An image of a car submerged in water is spreading in posts about the bridge that collapsed in Baltimore, Maryland, after a heavily laden cargo ship lost power and struck a support column in late March 2024. But the photo is misrepresented; it shows a vehicle that entered a river in Northern Ireland in January 2022.

"#BREAKING Very Shocking visuals," says a March 26, 2024 post sharing the picture on X. "A cargo ship collided with the #FrancisScottKeyBridge in Baltimore leads to its complete collapse, with multiple cars plunging into the water below and more than 20 people missing #Baltimore #BridgeCollapse #Bridge."

Screenshot from X taken March 26, 2024

Similar posts rocketed across X and other platforms, including Instagram, in the hours after a container ship hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, blocking one of the busiest US commercial harbors. Authorities said the vessel lost power and plowed into the structure after issuing a Mayday call and dropping anchors in a last-ditch effort to avoid disaster.

Divers and other specialist crews have been combing the Patapsco River in an effort to locate six missing members of a construction crew, who as of March 27 were presumed dead and who had been repairing potholes on the bridge when it collapsed. Two other people on the team were rescued from the frigid waters.

Baltimore's fire chief James Wallace said sonar found vehicles in the water, but that he could not give further details. Maryland Governor Wes Moore said the investigation was still ongoing, while state Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said officials "do not believe" any people were trapped in cars.

Some of the posts circulating online included real images from the Baltimore disaster, but the photo of the submerged car is unrelated to the collapse, which sparked a flood of misinformation on X.

A reverse image search uncovered the same picture in articles from the BBC, the Belfast Telegraph and other websites about a man who was rescued from his car after driving into a river on the outskirts of Dungiven, Northern Ireland, on January 1, 2022 (archived here, here and here). The silver Peugeot 3008 vehicle collided with a bridge in the area before entering the water.

The reports attribute the picture to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, which posted it to Facebook (archived here).

"Fire crews from Dungiven & Limavady, supported by specialist crews from Crescent Link & Central Fire Stations responded to a vehicle in water incident this morning on the outskirts of Dungiven," the agency wrote.

"The vehicle driver was rescued by the first attending crews and a subsequent systemic river search was undertaken until the PSNI confirmed that all vehicle occupants had been accounted for."

AFP has debunked other misinformation about the Baltimore bridge collapse here.

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