Broadcaster faces backlash for news special to air after Titan sub runs out of oxygen

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An upcoming news special on the Titan submersible, which vanished after losing signal days ago, is sparking backlash for its timing while crews continue to search for the vessel at sea.

ITN’s “Titanic Sub: Lost at Sea” is scheduled to air on Britain’s Channel 5 on Thursday at 2 pm ET, hours after The Titan had been expected to run out of oxygen. Members of the public have slammed the program due to its timing.

The special is being presented by Channel 5 host Dan Walker and produced by ITN, an Oscar-nominated production company that specializes in “non-fiction content” with a short turn-around period made for British broadcasters.

The 22-foot vessel was on a dive to the site of the Titanic when it lost contact with its support ship Sunday. On board are a British explorer, a father and son from a prominent Pakistani business family, a French Titanic expert and the CEO of OceanGate, the Washington state-based company that operates the vessel.

Walker shared a post made by @itnproductionstv to his Instagram story promoting the program. “Titanic Sub – Lost at Sea on @channel5_tv tonight at 7pm LIVE,” the caption reads. “@mrdanwalker and experts discuss breaking new developments in the hunt for the missing submersible live tonight.”

USA TODAY has reached out to Walker’s rep.

As oxygen levels run out: Prospects direct for 5 passengers on missing Titanic sub

Channel 5, ITN receiving backlash for fast-turn production on Titan sub

The timing of the news special has been criticized on social media.

“They already made a doc! They ain’t even out of the air yet!” Twitter user Mercer Morrison wrote.

Another user @salvocachia called the decision to air on the day the five people on board were expected to run out of oxygen “depravity at its finest.”

“Pretty tacky sensationalizing and profiting off of tragedy because you can,” added @thecat854.

One voiced excitement for the special. “Like a lunatic in Work today counting down till the channel 5 documentary on the titan sub tonight. Honestly how can you not be completely caught up in this?” @Rixy92 wrote Thursday on Twitter.

Ian Rumsey, ITN’s managing director of television, clarified to USA TODAY in an email that the production is a news special, not a documentary.

Rumsey told Deadline and Variety in a statement that the production company is treating the situation with “great sensitivity.”

“This program will chart everything from the exploration itself, to the rise of extreme tourism, to the rescue attempts, but above all it will tell a very human story that has captured the nation which is about five people, all with families, who are trapped at the bottom of the ocean,” Rumsey added.

Titan sub was expected to run out of oxygen Thursday

The Titan sub was estimated Tuesday by US Coast Guard officials to have about 40 hours of oxygen left – and that length of time passed as of about 5 am ET Thursday. An updated prediction by the US Coast Guard Wednesday said the Titan is likely to run out of oxygen at around 7 am ET Thursday.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic.  In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international fleet of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international fleet of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic.

While the estimates for remaining oxygen were only approximations and could vary by a few hours or so, officials had for days stressed the dire nature of finding the sub soon.

“We have to retain hope as part of what we are doing as a human community to find explorers and bring them to safety,” Joyce Murray, Canada’s minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said Wednesday.

Other factors could also prove fatal for the passengers on board which include Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate; Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a French maritime explorer and director of the Underwater Research Program at Premier Exhibitions, RMS Titanic Inc.; Hamish Harding, a British explorer private jet dealer and chairman of Action Aviation, a global sales company in business aviation; Shahzada Dawood, a member of one of Pakistan’s most prominent families, and his son Suleman Dawood.

Nikolas Xiros, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering at the University of New Orleans, told USA TODAY the vessel has likely lost power and the temperatures at that depth could be barely above freezing.

“If a lack of oxygen doesn’t get them,” Xiros said, “what’s going to get them is going to be hypothermia.”

Search crews Wednesday expanded the surface area in the search and rescue mission to about twice the size of Connecticut and 2.5 miles deep.

The 22-foot, carbon-fiber submersible had a 96-hour oxygen supply when it departed on its journey at about 6 am Sunday, according to David Concannon, an adviser to OceanGate Expeditions, the deep-sea exploration company that owns the vessel.

The small craft, owned by undersea exploration company OceanGate Expeditions, has been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around it via yearly voyages since 2021. The Titan was launched from an icebreaker that was hired by OceanGate and formerly operated by the Canadian Coast Guard . The ship has ferried dozens of people and the submersible craft to the North Atlantic wreck site, where the Titan has made multiple dives.

Contributing: Thao Nguyen, Grace Hauck

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Titanic Sub: Lost at Sea’: British broadcaster facing backlash

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